7. “The merry misogynist” by Colin Cotterill

Publisher: Lao Insight, 2009
Page count: 236 pages

Despite the ominous title, this is yet another delightful book in the series about Dr Siri Paiboun, the 73-year old (fictitious) doctor who was made national coroner by the Lao Communist revolution in the mid-1970s. In this latest installment, Dr Siri is investigating a Lao mass murderer who woos young, innocent girls, promising to take them away from their destitute villages to be a diplomat’s wife abroad, only to kill them on their wedding nights. Given the disorganised state of police affairs and the underdeveloped communications across Laos, Laos is full of villages cut off from the world, making Dr Siri’s task of tracking down the killer about as easy as finding a needle in a haystack…

In addition to this criminal case, Dr Siri and his wife, Madame Daeng, are investigating a mystery closer to home: whatever happened to Rajid, the Indian crazy man who used to wander harmlessly around, lost in a universe of his own? Retracing Rajid’s footsteps, they discover that the man they thought was an imbecile and an orphan, is in fact neither: not only do they manage to track down Rajid’s father, but also Rajid has left them beautifully written riddles and poems in Sanskrit giving them clues of his current location! But will they manage to solve the riddles before time runs out for Rajid?

As is usually the case with the crime novels about Dr Siri, this book is more about Lao society and culture, and about a tight-knit group of friends in Communist Lao, than it is about the crimes themselves. That said, given the heinous nature of the murders in this book, this book is more action-filled than the predecessors in the series, as Dr Siri is quite literally running out of time before the killer woos his next victim. Add to that the comic relief of Dr Siri’s troubles with the Communist housing committee, the birth of Dtui’s daughter, and the hunt for Rajid, and you have all the ingredients needed for an excellent crime-cum-humour novel. Well worth the read!


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