Monday, September 17, 2012

The Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill: A review



There is a serial killer loose in peaceful Buddhist Laos. (Yes, in 1978 the government was nominally socialist, following the revolution that overturned the Royalists, but the country's soul was still Buddhist.) It is still a poverty-stricken country struggling to make its way in the world and provide better lives for its long-suffering people, but progress is dismayingly slow. Even with all its problems though, people had been able to trust each other on a personal day-to-day level, but now a wolf is loose in the peaceful fold and all of that may be changing. Not if the national coroner 73-year-old Dr. Siri Paiboun can prevent it! 

The killer comes to Siri's attention when the murdered body of a beautiful country girl is delivered to his morgue in Vientiane. She had been tied to a tree and strangled, but she had not, as the doctor had expected to find, been raped. However, her body had been violated in a particularly sickening fashion, enough to make Nurse Dtui and Mr. Geung literally sick. And enough to enrage Dr. Siri who vows he will find the monster who has done this.

To his horror, as he begins to investigate, he finds that the monster may have struck many times. 

In 1978, Laos was a country with only minimal means of communication and police departments in the various localities were essentially isolated and on their own, so no one had been able to notice the fact that a number of beautiful, innocent, young country girls had "married" a smart-looking man with a truck from Vientiane and then disappeared from their families, never to be seen again. The bodies turned up later, in other locations, tied to trees, strangled, but until Siri started poking around no one had ever put two and two together. 

Siri now has a new partner in his investigations, his new wife Madame Daeng. They, along with policeman Phosy, and the usual posse of assistants, set out to find the truth and bring justice and peace for the spirits of the murdered girls, and maybe prevent the tragedy from happening again.

Meanwhile, of course, there are other mysteries for Siri to solve. Rajid, the naked Indian, has disappeared. Much to his surprise, Siri discovers that the man has a father and he painstakingly gathers clues to try to locate Rajid before it is too late, because he has been warned by the spirits that sometimes communicate with him that Rajid is in serious danger.

While solving mysteries with his friends, Siri must also fight with housing officials who accuse him of not actually living in the house that the government has allocated for him but of allowing other people to live there while he actually stays with his new bride above her noodle shop. But Siri would never lie to the government, would he?

This is a somewhat darker tale than the previous entries in this series, because of the serial killer aspect of it. But leave it to Dr. Siri to wrap all the loose ends up in a neat little bow and give all his admiring readers that warm and fuzzy feeling at the end.

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