Dr Siri Paiboun, reluctant national coroner of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, is summoned to a remote location in the mountains of Huaphan Province, where for years the leaders of the current government had hidden out in caves, waiting to assume power. Now, as a major celebration of the new regime is scheduled to take place, an arm is found protruding from the concrete walk that had been laid from the President’s former cave hideout to his new house beneath the cliffs. Dr Siri is ordered to supervise the disinterment of the body attached to the arm, identify the corpse, and discover how he died.
Set in the People's Democratic Republic of Laos in 1977, Cotterill's engrossing third mystery (after 2005's Thirty-three Teeth) takes series hero Dr. Siri Paiboun, the 73-year-old national coroner who has recently discovered his shaman ancestry, and Nurse Dtui, his no-nonsense associate, from the capital, Vientiane, to remote Vieng Xai, where a cement-entombed corpse has turned up at the Laotian president's compound. At Kilometer 8 Hospital, Paiboun and Dtui meet Dr. Santiago, a charismatic surgeon on loan from Cuba, who uncovers crucial information about the victim's identity. As they close in on the killer, Paiboun and company must deal with soul-transfer, a marriage proposal, ancient rituals, frenetic dancing, racism and more murders. Horrific sacrificial rituals coexist seamlessly with the endless, banal red tape that hampers the investigation. Paiboun's gift for conversing with the dead comes in handy as he endures such strange happenings as nightly disco music only he can hear. This witty and unusual series just keeps getting better.