The Woman Who Wouldn't Die (Dr. Siri Paiboun Series #9)by Colin Cotterill
The long-awaited follow-up to 2011's Slash & Burn.
In a small Lao village, a very strange thing has happened. A woman was shot and killed in her bed during a burglary; she was given a funeral and everyone in the village saw her body burned. Then, three days later, she was back in her house as if she'd never been dead at all. But now she/b>/i>… See more details below
The long-awaited follow-up to 2011's Slash & Burn.
In a small Lao village, a very strange thing has happened. A woman was shot and killed in her bed during a burglary; she was given a funeral and everyone in the village saw her body burned. Then, three days later, she was back in her house as if she'd never been dead at all. But now she's clairvoyant, and can speak to the dead. That's why the long-dead brother of a Lao general has enlisted her to help his brother uncover his remains, which have been lost at the bottom of a river for many years.
Lao national coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun and his wife, Madame Daeng, are sent along to supervise the excavation. It could be a kind of relaxing vacation for them, maybe, except Siri is obsessed with the pretty undead medium's special abilities, and Madame Daeng might be a little jealous. She doesn't trust the woman for some reason─is her hunch right? What is the group really digging for at the bottom of this remote river on the Thai border? What war secrets are being covered up?
"Laughter is a subversive weapon when you live under a repressive regime. That's the take-away lesson from Colin Cotterill's gravely funny novels set in Indochina in the 1970s."
─New York Times Book Review
"The latest Dr. Paiboun novel by Colin Cotterill, showcases both author and detective at the top of their games. It's an entertaining and captivating mystery underpinned by a fascinating exploration of the tangled history of Laos."
─The Christian Science Monitor
"Cotterill has never been better than in this ninth outing for acerbic Dr. Siri.... The action builds to an ingenious resolution."
─Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
"This quirky mystery is filled with unforgettably strange characters. It’s also filled with Cotterill’s dark humor, best seen in the characters’ wry dialogue. Readers who appreciate reluctant cops and detectives, like Tarquin Hall’s Indian sleuth, Vish Puri, or Stuart Kaminsky’s Russian Inspector Rostnikov, will love Cotterill’s cynical, haunted coroner."
─Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
"One of Cotterill’s best books yet. Fans are going to adore this one."
─The Globe and Mail
"Crime fiction is a comprehensive introduction to different societies, and Cotterill's series are prominent on that bookshelf. It is not that he makes us laugh while working with the heartbreaking essentials of human drama. He fosters affection for and understanding of the Lao beyond the histories of Cold War geopolitics and the familiar touristy visions of southeast Asian hospitality. That is some achievement."
─The Indian Times
“Irresistible, for new readers as well as established fans.”
"After Cotterill's hiatus to launch another series set in Thailand (Grandpa, There's a Head on the Beach, 2012, etc.), the return of that glorious curmudgeon Dr. Siri for a ninth escapade is bliss."
“Colin Cotterill has the enviable ability to entertain the reader while never losing sight of the underlying tragedies upon which his narrative floats ... The conclusion of this book suggests that Siri has at least one further adventure in him. I for one certainly hope so.”
─Reviewing the Evidence
“A first rate mystery... and an education into the people and culture of Laos. The dialog is wry and often humorous, and the novel is recommended.”
─Midwest Book Review
“The best in an excellent series.... You'll go crazy for Dr. Siri and the rest of the superb cast.”
─Kittling Books (Blog)
"Siri and his gang are nonconformists, and we cheer their every insubordinate move.... [Cotterill] mixes the terrible, wonderful, and whimsical in perfect proportions.”
─Murder by the Book (Blog)
Praise for the Dr. Siri series
"Unpredicatable.... Tragically funny and magically sublime."
"A wonderfully fresh and exotic mystery."
─The New York Times Book Review
"You get a real feeling for what Laos was like in the '70s. The humor is wonderful, too." ─New York Post
Read an Excerpt
Madame Keui was flesh and blood, or so they claimed, although nobody could remember touching that rewarmed flesh, nor seeing her bleed; not even when a second bullet passed through her. Even so, to all intents and purposes, she was alive in October of 1978 when this story takes place. They’d see her walk along the ridge to collect her groceries or ride her bicycle off into the forest. Some in the village had even heard her speak. She had become Vietnamese, they said. Her Lao was thick with it like too-large lumps of mutton in a broth. She no longer talked directly to the villagers, but strangers from afar came to seek her out. They’d go to her house, a fine wooden structure with expensive Chinese furniture; couples and elderly people and families with children. They’d sit with her in the living area visible from the quiet dirt street. And when they left, those strangers would seem elated as if a heavy rock had been removed from their souls. But when the villagers stopped them to ask what had happened there, they were silent. It was as if they’d forgotten they were
ever with her.
And perhaps that was why they called her Keui: Madame Used-To-Be. Because whenever they talked about the beautiful old woman it was in the past tense. ‘There used to be a woman who spoke with many voices.’ ‘There used to be a woman who seemed to get younger as the months passed.’ ‘There used to be a woman whose
house gave off a warm yellow glow even when there was no hurricane lamp oil to be had at the market.’ And even though they might have passed her on the
street that morning, at the evening meal they’d still say, ‘There used to be a woman in our village who . . .’
And perhaps that was because two months earlier
they’d carried her body to the pyre and watched the
flames engulf her.
The Ninjas From Housing
They lurked in the shadows of the late evening. They’d waited out three nights of diamante skies, the streets lit by a billion stars. And, at last, a bank of clouds had
rolled in and given them this brief cover. There were five of them, each dressed in navy blue, which was as near as damn it to black. And in the starless navy blue
of the Vientiane night they would have been invisible were it not for the battery-powered torches each carried. The beams negated all the preparations of dressing
darkly and applying charred cork to their faces. But in the suburbs east of the That Luang monument there was as yet no street lighting and there were any number of potholes in which to step. At eleven p.m. most of the householders were asleep and dreaming of better times. For any times were better than these. Only one or two windows gave off an eerie khaki glow from lamps deep inside and one by one these were extinguished as the men passed. Torch beams as loud as klaxons. Everyone in East That Luang knew something was about to go down and they all knew better than to come to their windows to watch.
Still a block away from their objective, the leader crouched on one knee and signalled for his men to turn off their lamps. They were immediately plunged
into the impenetrable black belly of a giant naga. None of them dared move for fear that the earth all around them might have subsided. Yet, not wanting to be considered
cowardly, none of them turned his torch back on. So there they remained. Petrified by the darkness.
‘Give your eyes a few minutes, lads,’ the leader said in a whisper that seemed to ricochet back and forth through the concrete of the new suburb.
Those few minutes crawled past but still the men’s eyes had not become accustomed to the dark. Even so, their leader stood. They heard the rattle of the large bunch of keys on his belt. They knew it was time to continue the advance on house number 22B742. Butterflies flapped inside them. This would be a moment from which careers were honed. Medals were given for less.
They kept close in single file behind the leader who seemed to have a nose for darkness. Up ahead, their target emerged from the night. The house glowed brazenly. Candles flickered in the two front windows and . . . could that be the scent of a tune? Yes. Music. Some decadent Western rubbish. The comrades inside were asking for trouble. Begging for it. They’d get what they deserved this night. The front yard was visible now in the candle glow and the men could see one another’s beady eyes. The leader pointed.
‘You and you, around the back,’ he whispered. ‘Don’t let any escape. We take every last man, woman and child.’
The two men ran to the side alley with a crouching gait not unlike that of Groucho Marx. But their flank advance was stymied by the fact that the side gate was locked, or blocked, or perhaps it was just a fence that looked like a gate and was too high to climb. They looked back for advice from their leader but he couldn’t see them in the shadows. Believing the rearguard to be in place, he led the rest of his team up the garden path to the front porch. He was no lover of these roomridden, occidental-style accommodations. Give him open spaces any day. He reached the door. He had a duplicate key, of course, for number 22B742 but it served no purpose. The door was ajar. He swallowed a gasp and pushed against the heavy teak. The door opened far too obligingly on oiled hinges and if not for a sudden lunge to stop its swing it would have crashed into the hallway wall.
The flutter of candlelight shimmied from open doorways
to the left and right, and up ahead a room he
knew from previous visits to be the kitchen was shining
brightly. That was the source of the decadent music.
And that, he knew, was where the transients would be
gathered. They’d attempt to flee through the back door
and into the trap he had laid. From his side pack he produced a Russian Lubitel 166. Not the most compact piece of equipment but efficient and easy enough to reload. There would be no mistakes this time. He would have them all.
Meanwhile, the two men sent to the back had retraced their steps and were now attempting to round the building on the east side. This too was a problem because they were met by a dog, an ugly, mean-spirited dog who stood and snarled. Drool dripped from its fangs. The men stopped in their tracks. They had reached the rear kitchen window through which a bright light shone on to their uncomfortable situation.
Fortunately the dog was chained and beneath the window was a motorcycle. By climbing on to its seat they were able to both avoid the dog and see inside the house. Just as their heads appeared at the mosquito screen, the leader and his two men burst into the kitchen.
‘Freeze!’ shouted the leader and there was a flash, then another from his camera. ‘Don’t anybody . . .’
But there were no transients in the kitchen, just a solitary old man. He was standing naked in a large zinc bathtub. He was up to his shins in bubbly water and
held a particularly impressive loofah. Far from being shocked or embarrassed, the old man laughed, turned away from the men, and loofahed his backside with
‘Search him,’ shouted the leader. There was no rush to do so. ‘Search all the rooms, the closets, the cupboards, the crawl space beneath the roof.’
His head turned in response to some slight movement through the window screen where he saw the faces of the two men who should have been watching
‘What are you doing there?’ he shouted.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This newest in the Dr. Siri mysteries not only takes on the Laotian coroner’s obsession with contact with the dead, but provides us with a lot of background on the good doctor and his wife and the role they played in the revolution. At the same time, the novel is a first rate mystery. It begins when Dr. Siri is offered a “vacation” upriver to supervise the recovery of the brother of a Lao general whose body is supposedly at the bottom of a river, lying in a submerged boat for many years. The general is prodded to undertake the excavation of the boat by his wife, who is influenced by a woman clairvoyant who was supposedly shot to death, only to reappear after the body was burned on a pyre. The woman claims she can speak to the dead and knows where the body is located. Wary but open to the suggestion that the woman might teach him to be able to contact the dead, Dr. Siri goes along. Meanwhile, Dr. Siri encourages his wife, Madam Daeng, to write an autobiography, from which we learn a lot about her earlier life as a participant in the liberation forces. This book, as were previous entries in the series, is an education into the people and culture of Laos. The dialog is wry and often humorous, and the novel is recommended.
Colin Cotterill is one of the few writers I'll forgo a lunch out in order to buy a hardback of his work. I cannot wait for the paperback. He's an amazing writer who can portray tragedy and make you smile at the idiocy of the 1970's Laos. His protagonist, Dr. Siri Pailboun, is someone I would dearly love to meet. Another government trip for the doctor and his wife, and another passenger who, her village says, was killed and her body burned at her funeral. Three days later she was back and is now clairvoyent. Siri would like to learn from her.
After a couple of rather weak Dr. Siri books, Cotterill has returned to his excellent form. Great read.