Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Woman Who Wouldn't Die by Colin Cotterill: A review

It seems that these Dr. Siri novels have become an addiction for me. As soon as I read that a new one had been published, I immediately requested it on my Kindle so that I could read it right away. I was not disappointed. It is another romp through 1978 Laos with Siri and his posse of oddball family and friends.

Siri has finally managed to achieve his long desired goal of retiring from his post as the national coroner of Laos, but three months into his long awaited retirement, the 84-year-old doctor is called on again by his government to perform a service for them.

The backstory is that a clairvoyant has told a Lao general that she can locate the remains of his long-dead brother so that they can be given a proper ceremony. The general is convinced to give her the opportunity and requests the pathologist's presence to verify the identity of the bones when they are excavated.

But, back to that clairvoyant. Allegedly, she became clairvoyant and able to communicate with the dead by being killed and then reborn herself. She was the widow of a rich royalist who had dealings with Vietnamese commercial interests and connections to the Lao hierarchy. Following a trip to Vietnam to pursue her commercial interests, she returned home and was murdered in her bed, shot in the head by an apparent burglar. The villagers took her body and cremated it, but, a couple of days later, there she was, back alive and at home again. 

Soon, a steady stream of visitors was coming through the village, requesting her help in contacting their dead relatives. Her reputation grew and the general and his wife heard of her and contacted her.

The medium tells the Lao general that his brother is buried in a boat sunk at a certain bend in the depths of the Mekhong River. The delegation, including Siri, his wife Madame Daeng, and Mr. Geung from the morgue, heads out to excavate the river. But Madame Daeng is very suspicious. Something seems wrong to her. Will they really be excavating for bones or is it all a ruse to look for something else? Is this whole thing an elaborate scam? Is the medium really The Woman Who Wouldn't Die? And why do there seem to be so many Vietnamese in the area?

Meantime, Siri and Daeng have become aware that a Frenchman is looking for her. Daeng suspects that he is a ghost from her revolutionary past who may be seeking revenge for her work as a highly effective spy for the Lao during the recent war. Does he present a threat to Siri's beloved wife and maybe to Siri as well? 

As always, Cotterill writes lovingly of the Lao people and culture. The best part of these stories is the relationships between his main characters and those relationships are on full display here. This is another pleasurable read in this charming series that also gives us a window into a perhaps still little understood but very interesting part of the world.

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