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Confronted by the poisoning of an important official's wife and the sudden appearance of three bodies that may create an international incident between Laos and Vietnam, 72-year-old state coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun keeps his cool in Cotterill's engaging whodunit, set in Laos a year after the 1975 Communist takeover. Ably assisted by the entertaining Geung and ambitious Dtui, Siri calmly gleans clues from minute examinations of the bodies while circumnavigating bureaucratic red tape to arrive at justice. Only an attempt on his life manages to rattle him—and for good reason. In addition to being comfortable around corpses, Siri actually converses with the dead during his dreams. These scenes come across more as a personification of Siri's natural intuition than as a supernatural element. Less explainable is Siri's journey to a northern Laos army base, where he becomes involved in the witchcraft and spirit world of the local tribespeople. Despite this minor detour into the implausible and a later, jarring change in viewpoint, this debut mystery, with its convincing and highly interesting portrayal of an exotic locale, marks the author as someone to watch.
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*Starred Review* This first Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery introduces readers to a delightful old man conscripted in 1975 to become the chief medical examiner of Laos after the nation's "only doctor with a background in performing autopsies had crossed the river" into Thailand, "allegedly in a rubber tube." Siri thought he'd settle down with a state pension after helping the Communists force the Laotian royal family from power, but the party won't let him retire until he is a drooling shell. So the spry seventysomething settles into a routine of studying outdated medical texts and scrounging scarce supplies to perform the occasional cursory examination while making witty observations about the bumbling new regime to his oddball assistants. But when the wife of a party leader turns up dead and the bodies of tortured Vietnamese soldiers start bobbing to the surface of a Laotian lake, all eyes turn to Siri. Faced with dueling cover-ups and an emerging international crisis, the doctor enlists old friends, Hmong shamans, forest spirits, dream visits from the dead--and even the occasional bit of medical deduction--to solve the crimes. If Siri lives long enough, he'll make a wry, eccentric addition to the genre. Frank Sennett
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.