Posted by: billpurdue | February 4, 2009

41 Crime in an oriental setting

I didn’t think I’d picked up a crime novel, though I knew the author had been favourably compared to Alexander McCall Smith. Looking for something a little different as I often do, I found this on the library shelves: Disco for the Departed by Colin Cotterill [ Quercus £6.99 9781847245854 ]. It is set in Laos, in 1977, shortly after the departure of the Americans who were trying to prop up a failing monarchy in the face of an approaching communist regime. The new corrupt regime thinks it can tell anyone which job they should be doing and has dragged the surgeon Dr Siri out of retirement to be put in charge of the only morgue in Laos.

cotterillThis is the third novel featuring the wily Dr Siri and his nursing assistant Dtui, not forgetting the very loyal morgue assistant, Mr Geung. Dr Siri and Dtui are called in to investigate a body that has been found buried in concrete in a path which leads to the President’s new mansion, an investigation that needs to be completed before a special celebration to mark a new treaty with neighbouring Viet Nam.

It soon becomes evident that the body in the concrete is not the only murder victim. Dr Siri has the ability to see and hear spirits of the departed and in this novel he becomes possessed by the spirit of one of the  victims, who tries to lead Siri towards the real truth of the situation. The investigations involve exploring a cave network previously used by the communist insurgents before they overcame the monarchy and the discovery of bodies in varying states of decay. (If you’re not keen on gory descriptions, then forget this one.) Amongst all this, Nurse Dtui receives a very official proposal of marriage and, in Dr Siri’s absence, Mr Geung is carted off to a labour camp, eventually escapes and begins the long journey on foot back to the morgue in Vientianne. So, what with possession by spirits, the black arts and the machinations of a corrupt political system, I’m sure you can see why this is rather different from the normal detective novel.

In the final chapters there is a lot of unravelling to be done and lengthy explanations did spoil it a little for me. I felt I needed to read more carefully just when I was reaching the climax of the novel at which point my reading pace tends to speed up. Having said that I did enjoy this very different piece of crime fiction. I also like Mr Cotterill’s website – refreshingly different.

I’m now enjoying…

….The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary  Ann Schaffer and Annie Burrows [ Bloomsbury  £10.99 9781408800485] which is selling well at the moment. There’s even a website for the book. More next time.


penguin-punctuationDid you read or hear about Birmingham City Council deciding to take out all the apostrophes from the street name plates? If not click here. Surely they could just buy the very helpful Penguin Guide to Punctuation by R L Trask    [ 9780140513660 ] for only £7.99, which won’t put the rates up, and just refer to that. Honestly!


  1. Hi, cool site, good writing 😉

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