I Shot the Buddha by Colin Cotterill: A review
Dr. Siri Paiboun is one of my favorite characters from an ongoing series. The series is set in Laos in the 1970s. Dr. Siri and his wife Madame Daeng fought for many years to free their country from foreign domination and to establish a communist government that would provide justice and equality for all citizens. The Pathet Lao were ultimately successful in their struggle and the communist government was established, but it hasn't quite worked out as Dr. Siri and the others who fought for it had hoped.
Dr. Siri is now nearing eighty. After the revolution, he served for a few years as the country's coroner, but finally he was allowed to retire. However, he hasn't retired from solving mysteries and from pursuing adventure.
Siri is surrounded by a coterie, one might call it an entourage, of quirky characters, starting with his wife, the noodle shop proprietor, who assist him in his adventures. They include his former co-workers at the morgue, a Vientiane policeman, and a former member of the politburo who maintains his connections in the government. In this particular adventure, they are all involved. They all take part in different aspects of the investigation.
Siri and his wife live above her noodle shop, but Siri has a house in Vientiane that was provided for him by the government when he served as coroner. Now, he provides shelter in that house for an odd assortment of characters who live communally. This latest adventure begins when one of those characters, a Buddhist monk named Noo, rides out one day on his bicycle and doesn't return.
Noo left a note asking for help for a fellow monk in Thailand who had run afoul of the law there. It seems that there have been three murders and the monk is accused of involvement in them. Of course, Siri and his entourage jump into action to find Noo and to solve the mystery of the murders. Along the way, they must deal with the three isms that hold sway in Southeast Asia - animism, communism, and Buddhism - and Siri will wrestle with supernatural spirits as he struggles to understand what is happening.
These books give what feels like an accurate picture of conditions in Laos in the 1970s. It is a small country poor in material goods but rich in spirit and in history, one that is struggling to establish itself on the world stage. Cotterill's cast of eccentric characters are Laotian through and through, proud of their country, although not blind to its shortcomings, and wanting it to succeed.
Spending time with these characters is always fun. Humor is very much a part of their story and one often finds oneself smiling or chuckling over their outrageous antics. This book, though, was just a little too outrageous for my taste. The plot was even more convoluted than usual and it kept heading off in strange directions that seemed completely unrelated to the main thrust of the story. I thought that the writer lost his way and couldn't quite get back on track. True, he wrapped it all up in the end, but the denouement felt strained and the story didn't "flow."
Even so, time spent with Siri is never completely wasted. He is such a charming, lovable old codger. One hopes that he has many more adventures yet to come.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars