Cotterill, Colin - 'Anarchy and Old Dogs'
Even if you haven't read any of the previous three books in the series, no matter, because within the first few pages of this one, we are brought swiftly up to date by finding out that Dr Siri Paboun is the coroner for Laos "a man that hosts the spirit of a thousand-year-old Hmong shaman… a man who has no fewer than thirty teeth crammed together in his magical mouth" and that he is assisted by Nurse Dtui, and Dueng (though he is unfortunately mostly absent from this book, as he is recovering from Dengue fever) and has additional help from 'the capital's only middle-aged policeman' - Phosy, and his friend Civalai, who is a member of the politburo.
At the beginning of the book, a man is accidentally run over and killed. Siri uncovers a secret coded note left in his pocket, sent from the southern town of Pakse, which leads him to suspect a plot to overturn the government. In a lucky coincidence, Siri is summoned to Pakse to investigate the suspicious death of a deputy army governor, electrocuted in his bath. This gives him the chance to discreetly pursue his investigation into the anti-government plot at the same time. His friend Civalai insists on going with him, as he has the right sort of connections to help Siri find out who is behind the plot. Once there Siri solves the murder quickly, but progress on discovering who is behind the plot is somewhat slower. However, good noodles and local gossip, both available at the stall of his old friend Daeng, help to move the story along. He is also roped in to solve the mystery of another suspicious death, that of a young schoolboy, who was apparently drowned in the Mekhong River. Meanwhile, tipped off by Siri, Phosy and Dtui decide to pose as refuges and end up in a camp in Thailand, to find out if this is the source of the insurgents' plot. Slowly but surely, the different threads are woven together until we find out who is behind the plot, and how the young schoolboy died.
The first book in the series, THE CORONER'S LUNCH was so successful for several reasons; partly because we learnt the origins of Siri's dreams, and his contact with the dead, which helped him solve his crimes; partly because of the depictions of Nurse Dtui, Deung, his illiterate boss Judge Haeng, and his lunches with his great friend Civalai, who is a member of the politburo, and partly because Siri manages to solve crimes despite his limited access to forensic techniques and the primitive morgue. In this book, Siri is abandoned by his dreams, does not really use any forensic techniques, but more simply relies on his intuition, local gossip and eventually, on asking the right questions. I missed the characters of Deung, and Judge Haeng, who only briefly appear in this book, and I also missed the weird dreams. However, there is plenty in this book to entertain, from the hilarious live translation of a Bruce Lee film in a Pakse cinema to Siri's encounter with the river dolphins. An entertaining read that is thoroughly recommended.
Michelle Peckham, England