The 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow is already rife with controversy, but when a Lao athlete is accused of murder, it escalates into a full blown international incident. In the twelfth entry to the series, Dr. Siri Paiboun and his quirky team of misfits are on the case in a city and country foreign to them, yet familiar in its corruption of justice.
1980: The People’s Democratic Republic of Laos is proud to be competing in its first-ever Olympics. Of course, half the world is boycotting the Moscow Summer Olympic Games to protest the Soviet Union’s recent invasion of Afghanistan, but that has made room for athletes from countries that are usually too small or underfunded to be competitive—like Laos.
Ex-national coroner of Laos Dr. Siri Paiboun may be retired, but he and his wife, Madame Daeng, would do just about anything to have a chance to visit Moscow, so Siri finagles them a trip by getting them hired as medical advisers to the Olympians. Most of the athletes are young and innocent village people who have never worn running shoes, much less imagined anything as marvelous as the Moscow Olympic Village. As the competition heats up, however, Siri begins to suspect that one of the athletes is not who he says he is. Fearing a conspiracy, Siri and his friends investigate, liaising in secret with Inspector Phosy back home in Laos to see if the man might be an assassin. Siri’s progress is derailed when a Lao Olympian is accused of murder. Now in the midst of a murky international incident, Dr. Siri must navigate not one but two paranoid government machines to make sure justice is done.
In Cotterill's delightful 12th whodunit starring Dr. Siri Paiboun (after 2016's I Shot the Buddha), Siri manages to become the medical officer for the 1980 Lao Olympic team, led by his best friend, Comrade Civilai. Of course, Siri's wife, Madame Daeng, has to go, too. An old acquaintance of Civilai's, Major Lien, is on the Lao shooting team, but Lien disappears between the photo-taking session at Vientiane's Wattay Airport and the plane carrying the team to Moscow. Siri, Daeng, and Civilai wonder whether the person with a false name who replaces Lien on the team might be an assassin, and, if so, who in Moscow might be his target. Cotterill does a fine job of capturing the spectacle of the Olympic village and games along with the way that the Lao team enthusiastically participates despite being destined to lose every event. He performs marvelous narrative tricks, using red herrings, tangents of all sorts, and a surprise, bonus murder to keep readers guessing. A competition between rat catchers from Laos, Botswana, and Moscow is a highlight. This quirky mystery has heart and humor in equal measure.