Sunday, August 12, 2018

Chasing Crime in Laos with Dr. Siri Paiboun, #13, DON'T EAT ME, Colin Cotterill

Dr. Siri Paiboun has retired from his Party-required position as national coroner of Laos (1980s style). That gives him plenty of time to spend with his wife, Madame Daeng, assisting at her noodle shop -- except somehow he's pretty often away on adventures instead. As DON'T EAT ME (number 13 in this highly entertaining international caper series) opens, Dr. Siri and his good friend Civilai -- Comrade Civilai, that is -- have smuggled a large, bulky item home on a raft. And the next morning brings them a regrettable visit from their friend Inspector Phosy, who has not retired and therefore needs to confront them with presumably smuggling a weapon into the People's Democratic Republic of Laos.

The good part is, it's not a weapon -- it's an enormous electrical movie camera, for the friends' ambitious notion to create a Laotian version of War and Peace on screen. Starring, of course, handsome young men like themselves (okay, like they Once Were).
A year earlier there had been an incident that resulted in the old boys coming into possession of some drug money. Quite a sum in fact. Siri had invested much of his in charitable acts while Civilai had smuggled in some delicious but rather expensive wines, a new lounge suite and a car -- not new but classic. Yet still they had not completely used up their ill-gotten gains. In fact they had enough not only to buy the camera, but also, with a little budget tweaking, to produce a modest film of tehir own. ... They removed the camera and wrapped it in an old parachute canopy. Getting it to the Lao side would be Siri's problem. ...

"How do we develop the film?" Civilai asked.

Siri laughed.

"Old Brother," he said, "on the eve of the race does the marathon runner worry about what drinks will be available at the winner's reception party? No. He takes one step at a time."
Once Phosy realizes he doesn't have to arrest his buddies, everyone relaxes. Which in turn leaves time to comtemplate the challenges for their plan: No power to run the machine. No operating manual. An interfering sort of local bureaucracy that's likely to rewrite the script for its own members, if it gives a shooting permit at all. And, oh yes, complications in the family circle, related to Mr. Geung.

Readers of the series will leap at the notion of hearing more about Mr. Geung's life, especially his planned marriage (!). If you haven't read any of the earlier books, be warned: You need to abandon disbelief, go with the flow, and let Dr. Siri and Mr. Geung demonstrate the fine points of the Laotian spirit world, where each of them keeps connecting.

But there's more to DON'T EAT ME than the madcap adventures of these rebels! There is, of course, a crime ... perhaps two or three? ... a skeleton (not yet bare) ... a criminal enterprise involving animal smuggling ... and conflict with the "real" bureaucracy.

Cotterill's passion for clever and unexpected twists that show the Party at its manipulative worst (and of course Dr. Siri fumbling his way toward a solution that his friends will help implement) takes the plot to drastic extremes this time. It felt like a lot of chapters spent wondering whether the team would ever be able to restore its usual lives -- and feeling highly anxious about missing family members!

Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri books are always a delight. DON'T EAT ME may be one of the most memorable in the series. And it's almost sure to send you back to the earlier titles, whether for the first time or the third (or more). Good fun, and a great summer read, from Soho Crime (an imprint of Soho Press).

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

No comments: