Colin Cotterill Dives into the Darkness of Laos
Traces of the past remain all around us, forever serving as reminders of the decisions we’ve made and the actions we have undertaken. Every single object around us has some form of history, a reason for every little scratch, nook and cranny to exist. A detective’s work, in a general sense at least, revolves around finding those details of the past and reconstruct the reality which did indeed occur. In some cases, the past is revealed through gruesome and uncomfortable means, more often than not in the form of a cadaver. In Colin Cotterill’s Don’t Eat Me, Dr. Siri Paiboun returns for the thirteenth time to bask in his element as he tries to piece together a brutal conspiracy which began with a very powerful trace of the past, so to speak.
As the story begins Cotterill tries to trick us into thinking Dr. Siri Paiboun might actually get a moment to realize at least one of his post-retirement ambitions, this one being the filming of a Lao adaptation of War and Piece, alongside his good fried Civilai. Unfortunately, those plans are put on hold as they are unable to figure out how to turn on their fancy new camera. Additionally, a set of bones belonging to a woman has recently been unearthed, and from the looks of it, someone has been gnawing on her bones, possibly even picking her flesh apart. With this grim new discovery casting a dark shadow over anything the good doctor might have wanted to enjoy, he sets out on a journey he’s no stranger to, one which promises to take him to the heart of a cruel conspiracy which led to the unceremonious deaths of God-knows how many people.
For those who aren’t certain if beginning the series with the thirteenth book is a wise idea, rest assured each and every one of those novels works as a standalone story with recurring characters. In other words, it’s a wise idea.
Of Cameras and Bones
For those of you familiar with the series I can safely say it follows in the same style as the previous stories, intertwining comedy with a very serious and cruel subject. We follow the good doctor as he, on one hand, does everything possible to try and get his camera working, and personally-speaking, I enjoyed the scenes with his friend Civilai where they cluelessly bumble around the world of filmmaking. They add some much-needed lightness to the whole thing and serve as welcome interludes from the darkness Cotterill enjoys taking us into. After all, if he didn’t remind us from time to time of the world not being totally obscured by the evil of men, we might forget it with the journey he takes us on.
Speaking of the other side of the coin, as you might imagine the serious part of this story deals with the investigation of the skeleton. The implications of how it came to be are certainly memorable in a gruesome way and help drag the reader into the plot. Eventually it develops into something on a much grander scale, as we’re accustomed to, dealing with corruption, bureaucracy, the black market, and basically the rotten underbelly of the human soul. Overall though, I would say the plot feels a tad bit generic in terms of its structure, but in this book at least, I feel it’s something Cotterill compensated for with the quality of his writing. While some parts of the story do feel predictable, the way in which they are delivered still makes them enjoyable to read through.
The Cast Makes the Story
In my opinion, the strong point of Colin Cotterill’s books, at least as far as the Dr. Siri Paiboun series goes, is always the varied cast of colourful characters. In Don’t Eat Me we have the doctor, his wife Madame Daeng, their friend Civilai, the newly-appointed police inspector Phoosy, a young couple with down syndrome, and that’s just for starters. We have corrupt officials, a complete madman who pretends to either be a frog or a dog, depending on his mood, and an airport manager who won’t say no to some bribing. In other words, there is seldom an opportunity to ever get bored with the people we have on the page, and while a few of the character archetypes we’ve seen before, they all feel fresh and original enough to stand out on their own.
As a matter of fact, I could even argue the plot is more of a vehicle to get us from one character to the next, rather than the other way around as is customary. If it wasn’t for the diversity of the people we follow the story with, their idiosyncratic natures, beliefs and values, the story would feel a whole lot more stale in my opinion. While I do know some people take a bit of an exception to the doctor and his gang being vehement communists and socialists, I personally never saw the problem with it as there isn’t too much of an accent placed on this aspect. At the end of the day, they are just a gang of people trying their best to do good deeds and bring some light to a world where darkness is always trying to take over, and that’s worth respecting no matter one’s political beliefs.
The Final Verdict
Ultimately, I would venture to say there are few, if any series out there like the Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries. Don’t Eat Me by Colin Cotterill fits right in with the other works, being funny, dark and intriguing in terms of plot and characters. I recommend this book to fans of the series, as well as those who want to get a good feel as to what the author has to offer.
Colin Cotterill is an English-born crime writer, cartoonist and teacher who is best-known for writing the award-winning Dr. Siri mysteries as well as the Jimm Juree crime series. Amongst the many prizes he received are the 2009 Crime Writers’ Association “Dagger in the Library” award as well as the 2007 Prix SNCF Du Polar for “The Coroner’s Lunch”.