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Slash and Burn: A Dr. Siri Mystery Set in Laos [Hardcover]

Colin Cotterill
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Dec 6 2011 Dr. Siri
Dr. Siri might finally be allowed to retire (again). Although he loves his two morgue assistants, he’s tired of being Laos’s national coroner, a job he never wanted in the first place. Plus, he’s pushing eighty, and wants to spend some time with his wife before his untimely death (which has been predicted by the local transvestite fortune teller).

But retirement is not in the cards for Dr. Siri after all. He’s dragged into one last job for the Lao government: supervising an excavation for the remains of U.S. fighter pilot who went down in the remote northern Lao jungle ten years earlier. The presence of American soldiers in Laos is a hot-button issue for both the Americans and the Lao involved, and the search party includes high-level politicians and scientists. But one member of the party is found dead, setting off a chain of accidents Dr. Siri suspects are not completely accidental. Everyone is trapped in a cabin in the jungle, and the bodies are starting to pile up. Can Dr. Siri get to the bottom of the MIA pilot’s mysterious story before the fortune teller’s prediction comes true?

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Review

“Outstanding ... deftly inserts humor into what could easily have been an unrelentingly grim plot line.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“The most entertaining case for Siri (Love Songs from a Shallow Grave, 2010, etc.) in years.” —Kirkus

“Any crime fan who hasn’t discovered the Dr. Siri books should start here and then work back. This is the eighth and best , and it’s been far too long since book seven.” —Globe and Mail

"Cotterill brings together all the elements that have made the stories so popular: a good mystery, plenty of humor, and a touch of the supernatural. A must for series fans."—Booklist

Praise for the Dr. Siri series:

"Unpredictable.... Tragically funny and magically sublime."—Entertainment Weekly

"A wonderfully fresh and exotic mystery. If Cotterill had done nothing more than treat us to Siri's views on the dramatic, even comic crises that mark periods of government upheaval, his debut mystery would still be fascinating. But the multiple cases spread out on Siri's examining table are not cozy entertainments but substantial crimes that take us into the thick of political intrigue."—Marilyn Stasio, 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

"The sights, smells and colors of Laos practically jump off the pages of this inspired, often wryly witty first novel."—Denver Post

"A fresh and innovative detective who goes straight to the heart and soul, without any sappty sentiment. THe author gives us exotic locations; a world that few us know well; crisp, intelligent, and often-witty writing; and most of all a hero unlike any other."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"A crack storyteller and an impressive guide to a little-known culture."—Washington Post Book World

“This is the seventh and most sardonic of Mr. Cotterill’s Dr. Siri series, and it is not easy to cope with the combination of misery and merry melancholy that he employs. His writing, as always, is skillful and smooth and his plot is artfully strung together. The book fascinates as it chills.”—Washington Times

"This wonderful series has consistently managed to convey the beauty and sadness of this damaged country through the wisdom and humor of its protagonist."—Boston Globe

"I love this elegantly written series, set in Laos with clever, septuagenarian coroner Dr. Siri. This one, the seventh, is the best, but all of them are terrific.... A delightful mix of history and politics, and an excellent mystery."—Toronto Globe and Mail

“It’s a rare treat to say that a book placed so far into a series is the best one. Authors more often than not run out of steam by the seventh book. Not Colin Cotterill.”—The Oregonian

"Colorful."—Seattle Times

About the Author

Colin Cotterill is the Dilys Award-winning author of nine books in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series: The Coroner's Lunch, Thirty-Three Teeth, Disco for the Departed, Anarchy and Old Dogs, Curse of the Pogo Stick, The Merry Misogynist, Love Songs from a Shallow Grave, and Slash & Burn, and The Woman Who Wouldn't Die. He lives in Chumphon, Thailand, with his wife and six deranged dogs.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
By L. J. Roberts TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
First Sentence: You know?

Dr. Siri, the nearly 80 year old corner of Laos, wants to retire and spend some time with his wife before he dies; a death predicted by the local transvestite fortuneteller. Yet it agrees to one last job. Ten years earlier, during the Vietnam War, a US fighter pilot went down in the jungle. A search party of Americans and Laotian scientists and high-level politicians set out to find the pilots remains. They don’t expect to be trapped in a remote cabin due to smoke. Even less, do they expect one of their party to die.

From the very beginning, it’s clear that this isn’t your usual mystery, unless you read a lot of books where the protagonist embodies a centuries-old shaman and a transvestite fortune teller are among the charters. But the wonderfully quirky cast of characters is only one thing that makes this book a delight to read. However, one thing devotedly to be wished, would be a cast of characters at the beginning of the book, as it did become confusing at times.

Excellent descriptions; “But the setting was idyllic. It wasn’t yet 10:00 A.M. and not all the mist had burned away from the surrounding mountains. The sun was still a fuzzy egg yolk behind a lace curtain. The air was fresh and tingled the back of Siri’s throat. The sound of running stream water provided the soundtrack. The second hands on the watches on the wrists of the Americans began to crawl more slowly around the faces. Time had altered.”

The book is filled with humor, but there’s pathos as well. We’re presented with a country subjected to war, and a description of a village which has lost an “entire generation of able-bodied young men.” Tucked into this story is the remarkable story of what happened to the people of this area.
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Format:Hardcover
With "Slash and Burn," the eighth book in his Dr. Siri series, Cotterill entertains the reader with a quirky cast of characters most of which who have appeared in his previous books. From a clairvoyant transvestite to a journalist from Time Magazine and a drunken retired general, the story has humorous dialogue with off-the-wall situations thrown into the mystery.

In 1968, helicopter pilot Boyd Bowry went down with his aircraft in a fiery crash. A search party was unable to find the wreckage or any survivors of the crash so the occupants were listed as MIA and the search called off.

Ten years later, a U.S. delegation has decided to pick up the search through the Lao jungles for remains of Bowry. The infamous Dr. Siri Paiboun, a seventy-four year old national coroner, is recruited by the Ministry of Justice to head the search. Dr. Siri is due to retire shortly but reluctantly agrees on one more job to the dismay of his wife Daeng. Selecting his team after turning down the one suggested by his boss Judge Haeng, Siri joins the U.S. party in the search.

At the Friendship hotel, a run-down place where the teams are sequestered, one of the team is found dead in a compromising way. Due to the "slash and burn" process used to rejuvenate the forest, the team is grounded and unable to transport the body to the coroner leaving Dr. Siri and U.S. pathologist Dr. Yamaguchi to perform the autopsy at the hotel. Soon accidents begin to happen and bodies begin to pile up as Siri and his team uncover a conspiracy to cover up elicit activities by people in high places.

Colin Cotterill teacher, writer, and cartoonist continues to draw his readers into the escapades of Dr. Siri and hoping "Slash and Burn" won't be the last of the series.

Reviewed by Jodi Ann Hanson for Suspense Magazine
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By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
It's 1978 and Dr Siri Paiboun, the national coroner of Laos, is now 74 years old, and his retirement is less than two months away. But then a note from his boss, Judge Haeng summons him to the Ministry of Justice, and one last job.

`Trust me - nothing can go wrong this time.'

Dr Siri is to accompany a joint Lao- American team into a remote area of Laos to examine what might the remains of a downed US airman and his helicopter missing since August 1968. It's a five day mission and Dr Siri's presence has been requested by the Americans. Dr Siri negotiates, and agrees to accompany the mission provided that he is accompanied by his wife Madame Daeng, his mortuary staff Nurse Dtui and Mr Gueng, and his friends Phosy and Civilai. Readers familiar with the series (this is the eighth book) will recognise each of these characters.

`But the nice thing about facts is that you can toss them in here and there merely to win arguments. It doesn't matter if they're accurate.'

Dr Siri quickly realises that nothing is really as it seems. The reader has some clues about the possible complexity of the mission based on the prologue (from the point of view of Boyd Bowry, the missing pilot) and some mysterious events in the Philippines. American politicians have their own reasons for searching, and while the Lao politicians are cooperating for political reasons, they are most definitely not speaking the same language. And when a member of the expedition is found dead at the Friendship Hotel, Dr Siri is determined to uncover the truth. Auntie Bpoo, the clairvoyant transvestite, is also part of the expedition and has foretold Dr Siri's death. Will it be on this expedition? Will it be before Dr Siri finishes this case?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  67 reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very smoky mystery Dec 24 2011
By Patto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Colin Cotterill is an expert at blowing smoke in the eyes of the reader. Smoke pervades almost every page of this book.

The time is 1978. The place: deep in the wilds of northern Laos. Dr. Siri has been chosen to join a Lao-American delegation in search of a pilot downed ten years previously. Soon after the delegation arrives at a primitive jungle hotel, the air fills with smoke, purportedly from slash and burn farming. But it's the wrong time of year. What exactly is going on?

More than you could possibly imagine. The reader is in for multiple, overlapping, interlocking surprises as the complex plot unfolds.

The zero-star hotel hosting the delegates is surrounded by a war-tortured landscape full of unexploded ordnance. Definitely a no-walk zone. Add to that the ever-thickening smoke, and you have a terrific locale for a mystery liberally spiced with political tension, spying, profiteering, CIA shenanigans, and spiritual interventions.

You'll encounter a number of quirky characters from previous books, as well as additional eccentrics. I particularly liked the drunken American major who can't stop hugging, the cross-dressing soothsayer, and Siri's lab assistant with Down's syndrome who cannot tell a lie.

I loved the early Dr. Siri mysteries, but stopped reading them after his possession by a thousand-year-old shaman spirit. Things got too crazy for me. But Siri's spirits are fairly well behaved in this book. The cross-dressing fortuneteller is the main one in touch with the spirit world, and she's quite pragmatic about it.

I admired this book for its devious plot, its unusual setting and its large cast of strange characters.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Here we go again! April 21 2012
By Phillip Jennings - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As an (mostly) airborne resident of Laos for a couple of years--a helicopter pilot for Air America--I've truly enjoyed Cotterill's Laotian characters, descriptions of the country, and his writing style. He knows Laos. He knows the Laotian people. He knows little about the American military and in particular the helicopter world. And I always wonder if the inaccuracies are deliberate (wherein they are political) or unintentional (when near slanderous, they should concern him in my opinion). I may be the only guy in the world who cares. So all of the rest of you can dismiss this review. If you haven't read the book, you won't understand my comments. Sorry. First, you could not get to be a pilot in the Marine Corps (where most of the Air America helicopter pilots came from) without a college degree or two years of college before entering the cadet program. Period.Your racial identity had nothing to do with it. We had black pilots in every squadron I flew in while in the Corps. Some were great guys and great pilots (Don Ringold comes to mind) who I love seeing at the reunions. And some were jerks--I won't name those. So the entire bit in the book about not letting the minority crew chief become a pilot due to racism is just-crap. Not sure why he felt it had to be in the book unless you are making a silly statement about race in America. Wrong place. Wrong book. Wrong information.
As to some of the professed flight maneuvers contemplated in the book (I'm really not sure if it was supposed to be taken seriously) such as letting yourself down on a hoist, they fall into what we H-34 drivers would call-impossible. The problem with the hilarious descriptions of possible maneuvers? I didn't get the impression they were supposed to be hilarious. They seemed to be inserted to give the reader the impression that the author researched and/or knew something about flying. (I actually know that the author consulted with a pilot but I will not embarrass that aviator by saying more. Probably a fixed wing guy.)
As to the title of this "review" it refers to another, very controversial, review of a Vietnam War book which was titled "Should fiction be true?" While writers can do whatever they damn well please is the answer, I still believe that the construct, context, and presentation of fiction should be considered when giving information about things few in the public will know about. Shoot me.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Characters, Intricate Plot! Jan. 5 2012
By Happy Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I recently read my first Dr. Siri mystery, "The Coroner's Lunch", which is also the first in the series. I enjoyed it so much, that I was excited to start on "Slash and Burn", the seventh in the series. This series is inhabited by a rollicking good fun cast of characters. The writing is intelligent and the glimpse into another culture and time is well presented, though quirky.

For "Slash and Burn", it is July, 1978, in Vientiane, Laos. Our protagonist has been the National Coroner (the only coroner in the country) for three busy years, and he really wants to retire in a couple months. Dr. Siri Paiboun describes himself at 74 years of age: "... forty-eight years an unconvincing member of the Communist party, host to a thousand-year-old Hmong shaman spirit, culturally tainted beyond redemption by ten years in Paris. ... Dr. Siri felt he had earned himself the right to be an ornery old geezer. And, no. Staying out of trouble for two months was no easy task for such a complicated man."

Siri is selected to go on one last junket, courtesy of a U.S. delegation trying to find an American pilot downed 10 years ago in Southern Laos. That is, the pilot is the public reason given for the co-operative venture. Events are shown from the point of view of the Lao, and they can be funny. For example, the Americans are led by a U.S. Senator (comfortably, from behind) who is eager for a photo-op with the locals. What he doesn't know, and it's an inside joke for the Lao, is that all the photos show the Lao sitting with both of their feet pointed at the pushy Senator, which is very disrespectful in their eyes.

There is a lot of humor in this series. Humor from the types of characters, themselves, humor from the situations, humor from seeing history from another's point of view, and humor straight out of the mouths of the irrespressible Dr. Siri and his cohorts. And the writing is good: "Time appeared to be changing pace, a gallop here, a legless drag there."

I now have to purchase the six mysteries in between "The Coroner's Lunch" and "Slash and Burn". I'm dismayed to read, on my book jacket, that "Slash and Burn" is the last Dr. Siri mystery. Fortunately for me, Cotterill has started a new series, set in Thailand (his home for many years). I read the first in that series, "Killed at the Whim of a Hat" and really liked it. It is a little crazier than the Dr. Siri books, but still intelligently written. I did miss the historical mileau of the Dr. Siri books, though.
Killed at the Whim of a Hat

I'll also add that I am puzzled by the title and book cover for "Slash and Burn". I understand where slash-and-burn came from, it is part of the story. But the title and the green slashy cover might give you the idea this is a thriller. This book is an intelligent mystery. Though I didn't consider it a slow-paced novel, I don't think it has the pacing or plot structure of a standard thriller.

I am reviewing from the Advance Uncopyedited Edition.

//////////////////////////

10/08/2012
I'm adding to my review. Colin Cotterill must have been listening to his fans. I see that a new Dr. Siri book is going to be published! "The Woman Who Wouldn't Die" is due to come out in hardback in February 2013!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and interesting but you have to suspend disbelief Feb. 1 2014
By meymoon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The entire Dr. Siri series is quite well written. Almost every book has a very good story line. The characters are very well developed and the mysteries are well thought out and fun to read.

Partly because these series take place in an Eastern country (Laos) there is that whole supernatural element to them. The main character (Dr. Siri) hosts a thousand year old Shaman in his body. Now, if you can't get over having to accept that, you should definitely skip reading these books because that part is central to all of them. I thought that it might bother me but the way the author introduces this fact and weaves it into the story, makes you kind of just go with it. I now find that it doesn't bother me at all and in fact, adds to the story.

Ironically, what's more unbelievable for me is that a 73 year old can do all the things Dr. Siri does, suffer such horrible injuries and just keep going. Having parents in that age range, it seems to me very unlikely that people of that age could bounce back so quickly from all the various injuries Dr. Siri sustains.

Be that as it may, these books are all definitely worth reading. Not only are they great stories, they have taught me so much about Laos, it's culture and its history, something I knew absolutely nothing about. I read some reviews saying that the books are propaganda or re-writing of history. My thought is that you read historical fiction to get a feel for the country, culture, habits, etc., and if you want an accurate history, you read a few historical books and make up your own mind. This author's portrayal of the US-Laos conflict is not God's word and I don't think he expects it to be!

Overall, I recommend this entire series.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, slightly off-beat mystery set in 1970s Laos Jan. 30 2012
By Carol S. - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I had never read any of Colin Cotterill's books, and ironically began with the last book in his "Dr. Siri" series. Dr. Siri is a coroner in Laos in the years just after formal US military involvement in VietNam ended. Dr. Siri became the coroner not so much by choice or by training, but out of necessity -- there was no one else to do it. He is in his 70s and is looking forward to his retirement in a few months; he has an uneasy relationship with the Communist party that runs his country and is considered "suspect" because he spent time studying in Paris. When some Americans arrive in Laos to search for a MIA American pilot, Dr. Siri and his wife end up as part of the Laotian delegation. It's an odd bunch of people, from a very young American woman selected as translator, to a cross-dressing fortune teller to a cantakerous US Senator to Communist party officials and a stray dog. When a member of the delegation is murdered, things start to get dicey. The delegation continues to search for the missing pilot and the wreckage of his helicopter, while trying to figure out who the murderer is, and what secrets various delegation members are hiding.

I enjoyed this book, which I would describe as a light-hearted, quirky mystery, not a thriller with plot twists on every page and not a graphic police procedural. Although the pace is moderate, it really works in the context of the characters and the setting. If you are looking for a break from American, British and (dare I say it) Scandinavian mysteries, you might give this series a try. The setting is fascinating, the characters are delightful and the premise is original. I will definitely seek out some of the earlier books in this series.
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