The Woman Who Wouldn't Die (Dr. Siri Paiboun)
by Colin Cotterill
Cover Artist: Photo: Micah Wright
Review by Mel Jacob
Soho Crime Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781616952068
Date: 19 February 2013 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
It's always a pleasure to read a new mystery featuring my favorite sleuth and his friends. Set in 1978 Laos, The Woman Who Wouldn't Die follows the adventures of Dr. Siri Pa1boun, the retired Laotian National Coroner. He has survived war, a corrupt government, and murderers. Now, he faces two herculean challenges. An unsuspected enemy wants to kill his wife and two murders require his talent to identify the cause and the killer.
In her youth, Siri's wife, Madame Daeng was a freedom fighter and a famed spy for the Laotians. She killed French officers and gathered intelligence while posing as servant or a noodle seller. She met Siri and his then wife and fell in love with him, but didn't see him for years until his wife died. She opened a noodle shop in Vientiane and romance soon followed. Happily wed, the two elders try to help others.
A government official seeks to recover the body of his deceased brother, and his wife enlists the aid of an old woman with an odd reputation. According to villagers, someone shot her to death and she was cremated. Three days later, she re-appeared now with powers to locate the burial places of the dead. Superstitious villagers regard her as a witch. The official's wife eagerly asks her to locate the deceased brother.
Siri is ordered to help with the project. He is to identify the dead brother using old surgery records. Siri sees the ghost of the dead and senses they want to tell him things, but he can't hear them. He hopes to enlist the help of the witch to change that.
Meanwhile, an ex-French soldier, a victim of Madame Daeng from the war years, wants revenge. He traces her to Vientiane. There, he kills a worker from the Housing Department who has grudge against Siri and burns Madame Daeng's noodle shop and their home with the dead worker inside.
Siri and Madame Daeng, with help of his close friends, are determined to resolve questions about the witch's initial killing and what the ghosts have struggled to tell Siri. While Siri and Madame Daeng are away on the quest for the dead brother, Inspector Phosy and his wife Dtui, Siri's assistant, investigate the witch's background.
The novel alternates between the search for the brother and Madame Daeng's memoir of the war years. Cotterill provides sufficient excitement and mystery to keep the pages turning. He also provides insight to a culture in at a time when it was not well known to most Westerners and how it was shaped. Siri's acerbic wit and the cleverness of his wife and friends make the reading fun. Cotterill has another new series, but this reviewer hopes he will continue the adventures of Dr. Siri.