After reading this charming story I must agree with the reviewer for Deadly Pleasures
Mystery Magazine who writes, "Who ever thought a mystery set in 1970's Laos
could be so delightful?"
When Dr. Siri is forced to leave his coroner's office for a road trip with the Justice Department, he is ambushed on a deserted jungle trail and kidnapped by Hmong insurgents. They believe Siri has the power to exorcise the village demon who they think is residing as an unborn child in the body of the respected elder's daughter.
Although Dr. Siri admits his body is a living, breathing container for a spirit named Yeh Ming, he has no clue how to perform an exorcism. He declares that he is a doctor only of scientific medicine, but agrees to try because that is his ticket to freedom. He recalls having seen an exorcism once, but thinks his ability to replicate such an event is about on a par with the man he once saw juggling four plates on bamboo rods—who broke all four in the attempt!
Meanwhile back at the ranch…rather the morgue…his pregnant nurse and fiancé are tracking a notorious assassin (The Lizard) whose latest prank is to plant an exploding bomb in a corpse. As the author says, "Just another day at the office for the Lao National Morgue." And just another fun read for fans of Dr. Siri, now in his fifth adventure.
Just scanning the chapter titles, with titles such as "How to Blow Up a Coroner", "Shots from the Grassy Knoll", and "Cashews Make Me Fart", should have been my first clue that this would not be your usual whodunit . Abstaining from cashews for fear of flatulence saves the life of one of Siri's staff after a gift-wrapped box of nuts arrives for Dr Siri. But it leads to the demise of the two American auditors who indulge as they crunch numbers in Dr. Siri's office, which is just another of Cotterill's humorous asides - who hasn't wanted to kill an auditor?
In spite of what seems nonsensical, there are many gems in the book (which reminds me of Alexander McCall's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series).
One is the excellent writing. Cotterill is a master of the metaphor offering many unusual comparisons, such as "The lamplight turned his skull the color of nicotine-stained teeth".
Another is the on-going social commentary about life in Communist Laos in the 1970's and touches of the fascinating history of the ancient Hmong tribe (see sidebar).
Third is great dialogue, with vivid scenes that not only make the unusual characters come alive, but lend more humor than normally associated with a mystery. The great hooks at the end of each chapter don't make it a page-turner as such, but it's certainly a book I was always eager to continue.
It's also a sweet love story, but to elaborate could be a plot spoiler for Dr. Siri fans.
And let's not forget the namesake, the cursed pogo stick. Cotterill ties all elements together for a satisfying ending while still leaving the reader yearning for more of Dr. Siri and his colorful Laotion cast.
Although The Curse of the Pogo Stick is the fifth Dr. Siri adventure,I don’t think reading the previous four is required to enjoy this book. I had not read any of the previous books and didn’t feel as if I was missing essential information. If you are someone who prefers to read in series order, you will want to start with the first, The Coroner’s Lunch, followed by Thirty-Three Teeth, Disco for the Departed and Anarchy and Old Dogs.
About the Author:
Colin Cotterill was born in London, taught in Australia, the U.S., Laos and Japan. He works for UNICEF and local nongovernmental agencies to prevent child prostitution and to rehabilitate abused children. He and his wife live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he teaches at the university.
For a greater understanding of the man in addition to the author, a visit to his creative website reveals many facets of his character. The cartoons and childish script reflect the playfulness of his writing, but his social conscience is revealed through the projects he has taken on to provide books and scholarships for the children of Laos.
Big Brother Mouse came about after Cotterill was approached by a little Laotian girl asking for candy. He told her that candy was bad for her and that he'd buy her a book. After searching for hours he could not find any children's books at all. Thus Big Brother Mouse was born with the aim of writing, illustrating, printing and distributing Lao language books to children across the country. Big Brother Mouse is not an NGO but a Lao-owned project with Lao staff, plus volunteers. Now that Big Brother Mouse is up and running, Coterrill is redirecting his efforts into a scholarship project that sends young Laos from the hill tribes to teacher training schools so that, after three to four years of study, they are able to return to their home districts and set up schools.
This review is from the September 18, 2008 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.
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