Cotterill provides a caution at the front of the book:
A mental health warning. Through necessity this edition is heavily spiced with supernatural elements. For those of you who prefer your mysteries dull and earthly, this is not the tome for you. Don't say I didn't warn you.Cotterill might as well have also warned: Get ready to laugh, a lot. At least, I did ... Chapter 2 opens in the 1970s, as usual, with the aging (retired coroner) Dr. Siri and his noodle-cooking wife Madam Daeng attending a Communist Party seminar that condemns the pagan rituals of spirit worship. That could be seen as a poor match for the couple: Dr. Siri's struggle with the spirits that live in and around him now has him vanishing from time to time, without warning. And Madam Daeng's recent cure for arthritis left her with a small but presumable waggable tail. Add to this, later the same day, police inspector Phosy and his wife Nurse Dtui, and Dr. Siri's good friend Civilai Songsawat, a former politboro member. The good friends' enjoyment of another superb noodle dinner gets interrupted as Sirit shares the latest news of a Thai forest monk who's been living in Siri's official government residence with other homeless people (Siri's idea).
All of that's fine -- the problem is, the monk, Noo, appears to have been kidnapped. And he's left Siri a mission to complete for him that will involve crossing the border illicitly into Thailand.
Within a few more pages, all three friends -- Siri, Phosy, and Civilai -- have taken off, with their usual traveling companions, to try to solve various parts of Noo's disappearance and cope with the mission. And each one confronts questions about politics, religion, and mortality in his own inimitable way. Which is to say: with all the eccentricity of old friends who do things their own way. Spirit guides included.
Cotterill must have chuckled all the way through writing this one. Siri pulls off some great distractions of other police officers as needed ("Well, comrade," said Siri, "you know you can't hurry an eighty-year-old bladder) and wrestles with his spirit quandary, which turns out to be oddly linked to the crime he investigates. Civilai and Phosy keep in touch with him in odd ways. Even the dog Ugly turns out to have a useful role, and there are at least two forms of exorcism along the way, booting out evil and rescuing the good.
Ride along with the fun, and all the crimes and their solutions will make sense by the end of the book. But I'm still shaking my head over the wry insights on spirit and religion that Cotterill's characters dispense through the pages.
No, you don't "have to" read any earlier Dr. Siri investigations before you read this one -- but consider the author's warning and be aware that the charm and quirkiness of the early books in this wonderful series have now escalated to marvelously ridiculous (and hence quite deep!) adventures, discoveries, and friendship. (It will also help if you know the saying about what to do if you meet the Buddha along the road. It has nothing to do with the story, but it will keep you guessing in enjoyable ways.)
To browse some other reviews of Cotterill's tales, click here.
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