DISCO FOR THE DEPARTED - Colin Cotterill

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Book Title: 
Disco for the Departed
ISBN: 
9781921351419
Series: 
Siri Paiboun
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Book Synopsis

If you haven't followed the adventures of Dr Siri, his nurse Dtui and his morgue assistant Mr Geung, then you're really missing out.  In DISCO FOR THE DEPARTED, Dr Siri and Dtui are sent into the mountains to investigate the mummified body of a man found buried under a concrete path at the mountain hide-out of the President of the People's Republic of Laos.  The investigation has a certain level of sensitivity because of where the body was found needless to say.  Mr Geung remains in Vientiane to look after the morgue and he takes his responsibilities very seriously.
 
Cuban black magic has come to the Laos mountains courtesy of a range of orderlies and other medical staff that regularly came to Laos to help out, particularly during the war.  A Cuban doctor is still working in the area - somebody that Siri has met before, and with whom he shares a very cordial relationship despite the total lack of a shared common language.  Fortunately Dtui knows a little English from her own studying and she can act as a an interpreter this time as both she and Siri try to understand what a Cuban orderly is being buried under the path of the President.  Along the way Dtui finds herself with an admirer, although his admiration for the rules of the Party seem to outweigh his admiration for Dtui.  Meanwhile in Vientiane officialdom has decided that Mr Geung is a problem and he finds himself removed forcibly from the morgue and transported miles and miles away.  Nobody in officialdom quite understands how important his job and his duty is to Mr Geung though, and he simply walks away from the convoy transporting him and continues walking - back to his morgue.
 
DISCO FOR THE DEPARTED is a fabulous entrant in this series of books for a whole heap of different reasons.  Firstly, Dr Siri is in touch with the spirits, and the spirits regularly talk to him.  They send him cryptic messages, they encourage him, they steer him in the direction he needs to go.  And in this book, they take him dancing.  You're going to have to accept that the belief in the spirit world is as real to Dr Siri as it undoubtedly is to the Laos people.  It's a part of who he is, and in DISCO in particular it seems that this relationship is smoother, less remarkable - it just is.  Dtui is as strong a character - she is a good, caring nurse, implacable in a crisis and not just the sidekick of Dr Siri.  Comrade Lit would have done better if his admiration had expanded to some understanding of Dtui.  Last, but definitely not least, Mr Geung is magnificent.  His sense of duty prompts him to undertake a journey that many people would cringe from.  His Downs Syndrome is beautifully and sympathetically addressed by the author - and the reactions of other countrymen, verbally not very politically correct maybe, but in kindness and their total lack of restrictions - it just lets Mr Geung soar.  There are some beautiful touches in his story such as the bandit who solves the problem of knowing where the sun should be; the final moments that he spends with his father.
 
Text have previously released The Coroner's Lunch and Thirty-Three Teeth in this series, it would probably help if you had at least read The Coroner's Lunch to get a clearer idea of Dr Siri's background, but really start anywhere, accept the fantastical and just get to know these fabulous characters.
 
Book Review

In 1975, and in the middle of Laos' new communist regime's teething problems, septuagenarian surgeon Dr Siri Paiboun finds himself dragged back to work. This time as the chief coroner, a post he has absolutely no training for and little or no equipment, staff, forensic support or resources of any kind. When the wife of a Party leader dies suddenly and the bodies of three Vietnamese soldiers are discovered, seemingly tortured and thrown into a local reservoir, Siri uses a very strange combination of autopsy results and assistance from his friends (living and dead) to investigate. Siri is the most engaging character. A communist for love (his now deceased wife convinced him that they should support the Revolution), a charming old reprobate by nature, he uses a combination of medical knowledge, instinct, charm and good old fashioned finagling to find the truth. Even the scenes where Siri is ably assisted by the spirit world seem to just fit in with the world that he inhabits. The author has a wonderful sense of farce and he has created the character of Siri with a touch of the mystic and a healthy dollop of the human. The supporting cast are well drawn and there is a real sense of community with these characters. The dialogue is funny, the interaction between Siri and his workmates and friends open, irreverant in some places and lovingly real. Despite the woo woo element, which can turn off some readers, this is a wonderful, original, unusual book filled with people that you just want to spend more time with. Thanks must go to Text for publishing this book in Australia, and hopefully they will continue with the next: Thirty-Three Teeth. Incidentally - Colin's website is well worth a visit just to check out the fabulous cartoons: http://www.colincotterill.com/

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