Slash and Burn by Colin Cotterill
Coroners and those who excel in learning the truth from the dead abound in fiction these days. One of the most unique is Dr. Siri Paiboun, the one and only national coroner in Laos. Siri, who is nearing 80, can be found in Colin Cotterill’s Slash and Burn, the final installment in the series.
Siri is not your typical main character. He is not suave or debonair and while he can be charming, it’s not his usual demeanor. He is slow of step, out-of-shape, cranky and stubborn. He’s also quite brilliant in his deductions. On top of that, he communicates with the dead.
Since he is elderly, Dr. Siri is not confounded when the local transvestite fortune teller lets him know that he sees death in the cards for him. He does want one more exciting case, however. It comes when he is asked, in 1978, to accompany a delegation into the jungles of Laos to look for an American serviceman, MIA for ten years. Going along on the trip is a U.S. Senator who appears mainly interested in good photo ops. But appearances can be deceiving.
As the delegation begins its search, one of the team members is found murdered. From then on, mysterious accidents keep occurring, some that are mighty suspicious. Siri, with his coroner’s kit, and his incisive mind, wants to get to the bottom of these seeming coincidences.
Is the MIA actually missing or dead or is he alive and living in the jungles of Laos? What caused his helicopter to crash and burn (almost totally incinerating it)? Why was he, a serviceman in Vietnam, even there at the time of the accident?
This mystery has a good bit of tongue-in-cheek humor infusing it and you will laugh more than once, something that’s always good to do in a mystery. One of my favorite lines came when the narrator said one individual had rolled her eyes so many times that they were now across the room.
To learn how Siri and delegation survive and who gets their comeuppance, you’ll have to read the novel. The faithful followers of this series will be sad that it’s the last one but even good things must come to an end sometimes.
Cotterill, who lives on a Thai island, will undoubtedly unveil a new, unique character to satisfy fans. I’ll look forward to it.