Actually Dr. Siri, who's been a coroner for his country in the frustrating 1970s, is now retired. But in this 12th in the series, Siri and his wife Daeng figure out how to join their politically connected friend Civilai on an exciting trip to Moscow with the athletes from Laos who are competing in the 1980 Olympics. That's the year that the United States and 64 other countries boycotted the summer games (a protest of Russian's presence in Afghanistan at the time). So Cotterill cleverly sets up the competition as a smaller-than-usual set of games that can let even the poorly trained and mostly unfinanced Lao team still show up well and have a great time.
But before the athletes -- and Siri, Daeng, Civilai, and their friend and nurse Dtui -- have left the ground in their rickety airplane, an unusual change in the passengers takes place, and Civilai realizes there's been a last-minute, unacknowledged substitution among the competing sharpshooters. Soon the friend decides they've witnessed the start of a major crime, to take place in Moscow. The fifth of their usual group, Inspector Phosy, left behind in Laos, tackles the groundwork to figure out what's planned. When Phosy's hoped-for informant is immediately murdered, the team knows they are all in danger. And the planned international crime is deadly serious.
But that's really the only serious part of this delicious and enjoyable romp through Moscow's hospitality in THE RAT CATCHERS' OLYMPICS. From Dr. Siri's own tendency to abruptly vanish into a land of spirits, to his wife's wagging tail (a long story!), to the love affairs of the athletes, and at last to the rat-catching competition impulsively added to the games, this is a page-turner of the best sort: full of characters worth caring about, a plot with just enough twists, and lots of joy. But it's also crammed with investigative efforts and speculation. For example, when the Moscow-placed suspect disappears:
"He might have gone for a jog," said Dtui.Whether you're fitting in a bit more summer reading, or adding to your admirable shelf of Soho Crime international mysteries, THE RAT CATCHERS' OLYMPICS will reward your purchase. Might as well get one for a friend, too ... I'm already listing the people in my life who deserve this sweet reward.
"Or a walk on the roof," said Daeng. "Insomnia."
"Or he might be out casing the scene of the shooting," said Siri.
"Or actually committing the crime," said Civilai, still feeling guilty for his failure.
The four were seated in the B block cafeteria with stodgy Soviet breakfasts in front of them. Two tables away sat the shooting team with Sompoo in the middle telling jokes.
"This really is a fine time for an assassination, you have to admit," said Siri. "The local TV stations have nothing but Olympic news and smiling citizen interviews. I can't even imagine a murder report finding its way into the newspapers for the next three weeks."
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.