Guest Author: Colin Cotterill
Laos, in both its royalist and communist incarnations, has ever been the victim of bullies. The Thais had their wicked way with her as its empire expanded. The French forced her to wear a corset of a land border that trussed together some thirty non-harmonious ethnic groups then put a ridiculous ‘S’ on the end of her name. Then the Americans wined and dined her generals and bombed the daylights out of her. After being converted to socialism the Vietnamese took her hand and dragged her unprepared into the new millennium. Currently, the Chinese are invading her one hectare of cash crops at a time. Poor Laos has rarely been the minder of her own destiny.
Dr. Siri Paiboun, its fictional national coroner, brought to life in the award winning novels of Colin Cotterill, is slowly making the world aware of the indignities his country has been forced to put up with. Siri, seventy-four, a frustrated member of the communist party and battle hardened surgeon, does not suffer fools lightly. He says exactly what he feels and is constantly stepping on the toes of his employers with his non-regulation leather sandals. He’s ornery, drinks too much rice whisky, and is prone to possession by more ethereal spirits.
So, what kind of woman could love such a man? In Dr. Siri’s ninth adventure, The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die’, we learn of the history of his new wife, Madame Daeng. The ex-freedom fighter and spy for the underground movement had long been carrying a torch for the old man. She’d first met him upon his return from twenty years of education in Paris and fifty odd years on, her patience has paid off. They have become a devoted couple. But with the release of previously classified documents in France, her identity is revealed and there are those who would seek her out for revenge. Only the doctor stands between her and a horrible death. And then there is a village woman who has come back to life after being burned at the pyre. And then there are ghosts and hidden treasure and boat races, and, of course, a lot of drinking.
But, as in each of the previous tales, it is Laos, the country itself that takes the starring role in these stories. It is 1978 and the administration openly admits its incompetence. It is bound in red tape to the point of inertia and rightly paranoid about the intentions of its neighbours. Movement from one village to the next is virtually impossible and the forced introduction of rice cooperatives has rendered the peasants even poorer than they had ever been during the years of fighting.
Modern crime fiction has educated its readers as to the technological shortcuts and communication innovations available to today’s policemen. But imagine an investigation with no crime scene gadgets, no police records, no cooperation. Imagine an elderly couple attempting to evade an assassin and solve an historical mystery. This is the thoroughly annoying but intoxicating world of Dr. Siri Paiboun.
Exclusive Video Book Review: The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill
Colin Cotterill was born in London in 1952. He worked as a teacher and social worker for most of his life before coming late onto the writing scene in his fifties. Since then he has introduced two series, one set in PDR Laos, the other in Thailand where he lives with his wife and a number of annoying dogs.