Cheers to the talented Colin Cotterill who, like his wily septuagenarian protagonist Dr. Siri Paiboun, gets deeper and savvier with each new installment of this refreshingly unique crime mystery series. In this outing, Cotterill splits his plot, leaving sidekick nurse Dtui and her new policeman husband, Phosy, with Mr. Gueng tagging along, to crack the case of a booby-trapped corpse, while a Hmong tribe in northern Laos waylays Laotian national coroner Siri and his insufferable boss.
Consistent with its predecessors, Cotterill's characters are thoughtfully rendered - this is a guy who has great love and respect for the people he captures so well on paper. His prose is light and easy to read - we're not talking heavy atmospherics or deep psychological drama here - and despite the macabre and gruesome nature of a day in the morgue, the author does not rely on excess violence or gore to substitute for story or setting. With a keen dry wit reflected through Siri, Cotterill's skewering of communism and its incompetent practitioners becomes rapier-sharp, yet plot is never overshadowed by the politics. The mysterious Hmongs, who've dropped in and out of the fringes of previous books in the series, play a pivotal role here (including the background of the bizarre title), lending additional cultural depth and poignancy while opening old Viet Nam-era war wounds. The parallel stories come together with an unusual a very Cotterill-like humorous twist, laying the groundwork for the next entry.
While Colin Cotterill is not the in-your-face, hip, brash and brutal contemporary crime lyricists in the vein of Charlie Huston, Duane Swierczynski, or Ken Bruen, he is nonetheless a maverick in his own right - a sensitive and creative writer who values intelligent plotting and carefully drawn casts, choosing a unique time and unusual setting to practice his magic. Here is an author that deserves much more exposure - do yourself a favor and get acquainted.