This is the latest instalment in Cotterill’s Dr Siri Paiboun series. Set in communist Laos during the 1970’s, Dr Siri’s adventures began in The Coroner’s Lunch. Once a surgeon in the army, 72-year-old Dr Siri is dreaming of retirement, but instead is appointed National Coroner for Laos. With no specific training, no experience and no equipment, Dr Siri and his odd assortment of friends beginning investigating cases in their own way. Oh, and Dr Siri can also communicate with the spirit world.
Jumping forward nine books to the recently published The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die, Dr Siri is now retired, but has been asked to travel from the capital of Vientiane to remote Pak Lai, in order to locate and identify the body of the brother of an important government official. Dr Siri being Dr Siri makes the most of the opportunity to enjoy the trip, taking along his wife, Madame Daeng, and his ex-assistant Gueng. Joining them in the quest to locate the body is the mysterious Madame Keui, a woman who had been killed and then returned to life with the ability to talk to the dead. At the same time, a shadowy figure from Madame Daeng’s past has resurfaced and is hunting her down.
I think this book would confuse the hell out of anyone who hasn’t read the previous novels. It relies heavily on a knowledge of the characters and the relationships they have formed over the series. I find Dr Siri to be one of the most charming characters I have read, and find the time and geographical setting of these novels to be incredibly interesting. The context of post-Vietnam war era politics and the relationship between Laos and its neighbours of Thailand and Vietnam, as well as the previous French occupation and Russian communist influence makes for a richly detailed story. I would recommend anyone interested in a different take on the standard CSI procedural give this series a try.