Curse of the Pogo Stick Paperback – 1900
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Meanwhile Paibourn looks forward to getting home to spend time with his fiancée Madame Daeng and even time in the morgue, which is better than attending these inane officious official officialdoms. Instead the female members of the Hmong tribe abduct Dr. Siri as they need his help; or at least of the millennium old shaman Yeh Ming is to perform an exorcism on the tribal chief's daughter demonically possessed due to an evil pogo stick placed on an alter.
CURSE OF THE POGO STICK is a solid historical mystery that contains two subplots, in which both contain humor inside serious situations that brings to life 1977-78 Laos. The Vientiane investigation is superbly written as Nurse Dtui cleverly leads the inquiry into who would use a dead soldier to kills others. However, Colin Cotterill's insight into the suppressed Hmong people, caught between the violent Communist regime and Nixon's just completed a few years ago secret war, is what makes this a great entry as neither side cares what happened to these expendable mountain pawns. The insight into the Hmong culture and their "collateral damage" plight supersede the whodunit.
If this is your fist encounter with Dr. Siri, then please start with "The Coroner's Lunch", the first instalment of the series.
However it is also, like the others, very funny. Well written, well edited and very polished. A great read.
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.
This episode moves the personal stories of Dr. Siri and the gang forward in a charming way. There are marriages and children involved, but I won't say more.
A surprising element in the series is the association with the spirit world that Dr, Siri finds thrust upon him, in an earlier book. He has become host to a powerful Hmong spirit from the past, who sometimes helps him solve crimes. This aspect could have made the stories ridiculous or annoying, but it does not intrude. Indeed, it provides an interesting sidelight to the goings-on in the "real" world. You learn quite a bit about the customs/beliefs of the Hmong minority in Laos.
The mysteries themselves are always pretty engaging and well resolved. They frequently require the main characters to travel around Laos and Vietnam, allowing us to learn more about the culture of the time and the general area.
These books are always lighthearted and amusing in tone, but not so much as to be goofy or annoying. I consider them to be a pleasant change from heavier, more depressing and serious mysteries, which I also enjoy.