Dr Siri, newly married to Madame Daeng, is in trouble with the Laotian bureaucracy over his living arrangements: he is apparently not living in the accommodation assigned to him by the government. At the same time as zealous officials are investigating this, he is called on to examine the body of a beautiful young woman from the remote hill country. An examination of her body reveals that she was strangled - a very uncommon method of murder in Laos - and then he discovers that this murder is not the first.
Dr Siri is distracted as well by the disappearance of Crazy Rajid. How do you begin to track an itinerant mute? Rajid has left a trail of elaborate clues which may assist, but time is of the essence. And, of course, the housing problem needs to be addressed or the people Dr Siri allows to stay in his government-allocated accommodation will be homeless.
Despite these distractions, Dr Siri and his intrepid gang (including Nurse Dtui, Madame Gaeng, Phosy, Civilai and Mr Geung) are all focussed on trying to identify the serial killer who is wooing and wedding - and then killing - young country girls.
This is the sixth in the Dr Siri series, and is simply wonderful. I read it in one day because I simply couldn't put it down. There was less of the supernatural element in this novel, which I found made it easier to focus on the story itself. It seems, too, that Dr Siri is rejuvenated by his marriage and may well continue to be Laos's reluctant national coroner for some time. I hope so.
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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
"The war inured us to atrocities, and the demons grew inside."July 11 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
It's 1978, and the war ended in Laos nearly three years ago, leaving the Communist Pathet Lao regime in charge. Siri Paiboun, the very cynical party member and former partisan, unwillingly drafted to be the country's chief (actually, its only) coroner in his 70s, and his new wife, the 66-year-old Madame Daeng (noodle chef par excellence and former freedom fighter) are starting to believe that they may carve out a happy and harmonious life for whatever years are left to them. Married for two months, the smile hasn't left Siri's lips since.
But the honeymoon is about to be disrupted; Dr. Siri isn't the only happy man in town, and that's bad news. For starters, there are the bureaucrats from the Housing Department, who have discovered to their glee that Siri has let an oddball assortment of people live in his house while he seems to have abandoned his allocated house to live with Mme. Daeng. If they succeed in taking his house away, Siri frets, a former royal puppeteer, a renegade Thai Buddhist monk, some former prostitutes and a couple of Hmong infants that Siri is caring for, will all be left homeless. More serious a threat to Siri's contentment -- and to his longevity -- is another very happy man. He's "Phan", a young man who arrives in remote towns, marries beautiful young women and takes them off on honeymoon -- then kills them. When a young woman arrives to be autopsied on Dr. Siri's table, and he's perturbed to discover that she has been strangled; few Lao would ever strangle another human being, believing that the dead person's spirit would flow through their hands into them and haunt them "for eternity". So Dr. Siri already knows he has a very evil murderer on the loose -- and then he discovers that this isn't the first such crime...
It may seem odd to describe as 'delightful',a murder mystery in which the criminal is a serial killer. But then Cotterill's series of Laotian mysteries featuring Dr. Siri are unique in any number of ways. The investigation is interspersed with other plot elements, like the disappearance of Crazy Rajid and housing wrangle, all of which pit Dr. Siri against everything from stubborn bureaucrats to evil spirits. I laughed so hard I ended up with hiccups at the description of collision between a government limo and a motorcycle, crushing eggs in the motorcycle's sidecar and turning them into a vast omelet on the overheated hood of the limo. (The police have to hold back onlookers "brandishing spoons and plates".) Dr. Siri refelcts that "the chances of two motorized vehicles colliding in Vientiane were less than that of a bird of paradise defecating on your best hat. Poosu, the Hmong god of small accidents, must have been bored that evening."
As the pages are turned, however, the novel's focus narrows slowly but surely to the urgent race to identify the serial killer before he can strike again. Everyone is involved, from the intrepid coroner and Daeng, to Siri's heavily pregnant nurse, Dtui (Siri expects her to give birth to a baby bulldozer); Dtui's husband, the stolid but sensible cop, Phosy, Siri's old crony, Civilai (who has turned to baking after being ousted from the Politburo) and Mr. Geung, the morgue aide who was born with Down's syndrome. The tension builds throughout as the investigators -- both amateur and professional -- scramble to put together the clues in a country where the only ultra-violet lamp available to scrutinize a medical test result is located in the disco lights in a school gymnasium.
At its heart, this is a procedural detective story, but the detectives themselves are unlike any characters you will find in any other novels. The writing is witty; the characters unique and distinctive. Like Siri, I was unable to rest until the race to identify and stop Phan, the 'merry misogynist' of the title, was over.
Siri, as readers of this series will know, is the Lao equivalent of a cat with nine lives. He's the reincarnation of a shaman, and is plagued by demons and spirits. It was disconcerting to check Cotterill's website and realize that the author expects the next Dr. Siri novel to be the final outing for the aged coroner. While I can't wait to have that book in my hands, I'm in the dumps about the fact that Siri and the wonderful fictional world Cotterill has created, will vanish from my literary world after 2010. I hereby pledge to support one of the minority Lao hilltribe students for the 3 or 4 years of teacher training through the organization that Cotterill has helped launch if he promises to keep turning out mysteries with equally-vivid characters in the years to come. After all, if a septugenarian coroner in 1970s can investigate crime, surely a second series of some kind isn't outside the realms of possibility?
Highly recommended to anyone looking for a great detective story with an utterly unique and compelling hero. It will get your adrenaline pumping AND you'll end it with a smile on your own face.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A great mysteryAug. 7 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
The Merry Misogynist is the latest entry in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series, set in Laos in 1978. As readers of the series know, Siri is an elderly doctor who gets the unwanted assignment as national coroner in the, then, new socialist government.
After years of civil war, Dr. Siri had hoped for a peaceful old age, but instead he finds himself beset with mysteries. He recalls his old training in Paris, years before, and the wonderful French mystery films he enjoyed. Yes, he is now himself an inspector Maigret! Woven through these books is a poignant look at Laos, along with Dr. Siri's late life discovery that he is also linked to a Hmong shaman from a thousand years previously. Somehow, all this works in the hands of this capable author, and the books work. How I discovered them was through an ardent fan who recommended them to me. People who read them, tend to get very loyal. I actually know someone who is visiting Laos just to see where the stories take place!
In this particular volume, Dr. Siri is presented with a dreadful case. A very beautiful young woman turns up as a case at the morgue, and he sets out to find out who would do such an awful, unusual crime. Serial killers appear to be almost unheard of at that time and place. The book goes back and forth between Dr. Siri and the mind of the killer (the merry misogynist himself).
If you have read the other books, look for the subplot, too, about the young Rajid going missing, and Dr. Siri's attempt to find him. I love that character, a young homeless, foreign man, who seems to be damaged in some way. I love the way everyone just feeds him and takes care of him in his street life. The people appear very compassionate.
I recommend this marvelous book without hesitation. Read the whole series and enjoy! And check out the author's website re books for Laos!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Spiritual, funny and suspensefulAug. 18 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Dr. Siri Paiboun, now in his mid-70s in 1978, the third year of the communist Pathet Lao government, is still Laos' chief and only state coroner in this 6th appearance. Though his desire for retirement remains unfulfilled, he has at long last found wedded bliss.
Noodle seller Madame Daeng, 66, is a partisan comrade from the old days. Both are now a bit disillusioned, with the country suffering shortages of everything except bombast and repression. Madame Daeng enthusiastically joins Siri in his wish for a tranquil life and his unwillingness to suffer officious, puffed-up government bureaucrats, like the housing official standing on Madame Daeng's doorstep trying to catch Siri in the act of living there.
Various people in need (from previous adventures) occupy Siri's assigned abode, and the housing man is eager to advance himself by recouping the house for the state and throwing its inhabitants out on the street. Siri, with a spirited mix of cunning and good-natured defiance, born of his years of experience, stays several steps ahead of the housing campaign while investigating a particularly gruesome murder and hunting for Crazy Rajid, a recurring character who is homeless, virtually silent, unpredictable and missing.
This three-pronged plot engages Siri's professional, private and spiritual sides. As a reincarnated shaman, spirits visit or torment him from time to time and he sees dead people - and animals - their messages frustratingly cryptic.
But the mysteries of the girl in his morgue are chillingly of this world - strangled, violated, tied naked to a tree. The strangulation alone is disturbing as many Lao believe that "if a person was holding a body when the life drained from it, that person was likely to provide a conduit for the spirit of the corpse and be haunted for all eternity." And then Siri discovers this girl was not the first victim - and will not be the last.
Urgency disrupts Siri's normal routines. The lives of Rajid and some yet unknown innocent girl depend upon his swift progress, as does the well being of his houseguests, while the paranoia and red-tape of bureaucracy throw roadblocks in his path. But to Siri those very hindrances can be an investigative aid as well.
Cotterill weaves in the killer's point of view, as is common in thrillers, but doesn't really seem necessary here. Still, it doesn't harm the story and does give us a creepy picture of a tormented, misogynist killer.
Fans will find themselves at home with the usual fine cast; newcomers will not feel like strangers for long. Witty, beguiling, spiritual, very funny, and suspenseful, this series continues to occupy a class all its own.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
DelightfulJuly 23 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Another excellent instalment in the series which started with "The Coroners Lunch". In this one, we have two mysteries, a missing friend (sort of friend) and a psychotic serial killer. To be perfectly honest, I do not read Colin's books for the structure of the mystery itself. I read them for their delightful characters, the languid setting, the picture he draws so well of a conflicted land where you constantly have to make compromises in order to survive. And of course that wonderful polyester clad world of the Comintern and socialist brotherhood. The Pathet Lao are rather inept and unsophisticated oppressors, but still dangerous. You have to watch what you say and where you go, otherwise you'll end up in a re-education camp. You always have a choice of taking your chances in the refugee camps in Thailand, just across the river. Or you can try your luck surviving in the Socialist regime and dream of going to Eastern Europe. If you're new to the series start from the first book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Colorful CharactersNov. 18 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Hard to start a series at the end, so I don't know all that precedes "The Merry Misogynist." However, Dr. Siri Paiboun is one of the most refreshing and memorable characters I've encountered in "mysteries." He's the national coroner of Laos. He's 73, soon to be 74. He is five-foot-two. It's the late 1970's and the country is a mess. Siri is irascible, determined, jaded, feisty, ornery and determined. He's surrounded by a colorful cast, including his wife, the "freedom fighter" Madame Daeng, who is "still pretty at sixty-six, still carrying a torch for her silver-haired doctor." She runs a noodle shop. Complete credit to Cotterill for creating an eclectic band of supporters who surround Siri.
Throughout "The Merry Misogynist," Cotterill sets up the humor in gentle rolling waves of narration as Siri battles his own demons and visions, the housing inspector bureaucrats, and as goes searching for a crazy street person who has vanished. The writing is light, carefree and the plot skips along on a hot breeze, barely touching down. Colorful touches abound.
The main plot involving the serial killer is a bit familiar--and the serial killer's motivations, revealed at the end--are standard issue and unnecessarily cliché. The victims are young females, the killer has personal sexual issues (I'm not giving much away). When Siri finally confronts the killer, the tension dissolves because we are told the story in flashback rather than in-the-moment. This is an odd choice. The energy of the ending didn't match the build-up. The point-of-view stuff from the serial killer didn't feel as fresh or as interesting as Siri. (How could it?)
Nonetheless, the vigorous, colorful writing and hard-to-forget Siri will definitely bring me back to Cotterill at some point down the road. Great timing, pace and some wonderful imagery.