Love Songs from a Shallow Grave: A Dr. Siri Investigation
by Colin Cotterill
Review by Mel Jacob
Soho Crime Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781569476277
Date: 01 August 2010 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Colin Cotterill continues the adventures of Dr. Siri Paibourn, the Laotian coroner in Love Songs From a Shallow Grave. Three women, all educated in Europe, die from a sharpened epee through the heart.
Cotterill describes Laos as a communist country rife with corruptions, but with a humane population that treasures its children and the individual. Foreign influences are distrusted. Both the Chinese and the Vietnamese exercise considerable influence.
Murder suspects abound including several Vietnamese military personnel. Relations with the Vietnamese are touchy at best, so information on such suspects is difficult to obtain. Others include one woman's husband, a friend of all three women, and workers in the restricted complex where two of the victims were found.
Other than scholarships, the three women appear quite different. One was married with two children, but the other two are single. The married woman worked with the Vietnamese.
The source of the murder weapons is also puzzling since fencing is rare in Laos. In the past, some French schools taught it, but not now. Only those who travel to Europe on scholarships have the opportunity to learn the sport. One of the Vietnamese excelled at the sport.
Cotterill also devotes considerable time to Inspector Phosy, Siri's close friend and colleague, as they struggle to solve three bizarre murders. His early life explains much of his present difficulties.
Siri and his best friend Civilai, a retired politician, delight in acerbic bards and gallows humor. Fortunately, much of it passes over the heads of most bureaucrats who don't understand what they mean. When forced by his friend Civilai to accompany him on a trip to Cambodia, he takes a collection of writings by Camus, convinced the Khmer won't have any interest in it.
This seventh adventure places Siri amid the horrors of the Khmer Rouge in 1978. The urbane Siri can't believe the Cambodians have turned their class struggle into an endless bloodbath. Caught where no foreigner dare tread, he is tortured and faces execution.
In many ways Siri's torture is much like that of Shan in Elliot Pattison's The Lord of Death (Soho, 2009, set in Tibet under Chinese control). Both men are stoic and endure. Siri is older, but of the same mold as Shan. However, how long he can endure remains an open question. While satisfying to most readers, the ending defies logic.