Laos, 1979: Dr. Siri Paiboun, the twice retired ex-National Coroner of Laos, receives an unmarked package in the mail. Inside is a handwoven pha sin, a colorful traditional skirt worn in northern Laos. A lovely present, but who sent it to him, and why? And, more importantly, why is there a severed human finger stitched into the sin’s lining?
Siri is convinced someone is trying to send him a message and won’t let the matter rest until he’s figured it out. He finagles a trip up north to the province where the sin was made, not realizing he is embarking on a deadly scavenger hunt. Meanwhile, the northern Lao border is about to erupt into violence—and Dr. Siri and his entourage are walking right into the heart of the conflict.
"On December 25, 1978, the concrete public-address system pole in South That Luang's Area Six unexpectedly blew itself up, a Lao skirt with a severed finger sewn into the hem passed through the national postal system unchallenged, and Vietnam invaded Cambodia." This opening sets the tone perfectly for Cotterill's 10th mystery featuring retired Laos national coroner Siri Paboun (after 2013's The Woman Who Wouldn't Die). Siri discovers the finger, and he's determined to learn how it ended up in the garment. His canny wife, Madame Daeng, helps him identify the skirt's likely place of origin, an area in the north run by drug-dealing warlords. To short-circuit the bureaucratic process of getting approval to travel there, Siri must exonerate the head of Public Prosecution from charges of sexual assault. His inquiry coincides with a sensitive murder investigation that may implicate Chinese nationals at a time when the country is on edge because of the Vietnamese invasion. Cotterill neatly combines humor, detection, and politics.