I have only recently discovered this wonderful author. Having read all the Dr. Siri novels, I was ready to be disappointed with any others, but the author appears to have a limitless imagination, coupled with the ability to bring his humane and crazy characters to life. The book has two principle people - one huge and with a heart to match, the other little and hornery. Their adventure starts in the USA and ends in the author's beloved Laos. Warm, funny, but with an underlying serious tale, this is possibly Colin Cotteril's best book yet.
The year is 1970: Waldo Monk is black - or 'burned siena' as he found out looking into the color card in the hardware store at Mattfield, Indiana. At age 65, he is a widower since 15 years but still telling his beloved wife, Aretha, everything. And two months from his retirement from Roundly's Pool and Billiard factory he is literally counting the days to head down the Mexico way into some kind of 'Club Med for Pensioners', all included... Now Waldo's task is to train someone to take over his job as a Quality Controler. Enters China - as she is called by everyone at the factory - or 'Yella' which should describe the color of her skin. But that - believing the color card - is really called magnolia white. She arrived as a little child in the USA under very awful circumstances and seems to hate everyone and everything and for sure has her fair reasons for doing that! In the beginning the two cannot stand each other. She's not interested in learning the billiard ball business. But within his final month they come to one respecting the other, arrive at a reciprocal understanding, and then even to like each other. Then Waldo's plans are torn to pieces, the retirement fond he put all his money in turns out to be nothing than a big, fat scum. And then the factory owner tells him he has no rights to demand any pension from her. So he's without a job and broke, too. Then Saifon - as China's real laotian birthname is, makes a proposal to Waldo: Adopt me and then come to Laos with me to find and nail down my abducters and abusers!
While trying to resolve the mystery of Saifon's past, they become involved in the confusion which ruled in those times in that Southeast Asian region: Air America bombing worth 2 Million Dollars a DAY for NINE years onto the innocent Laotians, the Lao Socialist movement aka Neo Lao Issara aka Pathet Lao, the Royal Laotian Army, the Thai Communists, wartime profiteers of all kind trying to pump money out of this officially NON-existent war and last but not least the CIA. With the help of CIA agent Wilbur they do everything to break down the network of traffickers who in the last 15 years never stopped smuggling war orphans out of Laos and into the US of A. And that is a very difficult task to perform they get themselves into.
But You have to read this book by Yourselves, friends and lovers of the Dr Siri series - the next one's coming out February, 2013 with the title The Woman Who Wouldn't Die: A Dr Siri Murder Mystery - and the two books about Jimm Juree, set in a remote resort in Southern Costal Thailand (a third is on the way, as I read somewhere :). The main setting of the story, You can also call it a crime story, is the border of two countries with Mukdahan on the Thai side and Savannakhet in Laos on the other, separated by the enourmous river, the Mehkhong, since prehistoric times the Mother of Live for the Southeast Asian states. The history setting is based on what REALLY happened in those Years between 1970 and 1975 in and around Laos until on 2 December abdicted the last King.
The story is told to us by an - until the very end - unknown person who was very near to the protagonists in the years that followed the solving of Saifon's mystery. To the language - that I have to admit - somehow at first I had to get used to. It is some kind of common language used in rural America like Indiana, but in a strange way also mixed with the asian-american slang Saifon used to speak.
I enjoyed the read very much! Colin Cotterill wrote this book in a deliberately chosen different style, but it's him with his wits and tricks and bendings in the story that his true, faithful readers are so interested in. The book was written in 2005 but printed versions You can only get from the Asian editor that initially brought it out. Buy the e-book and read it with the same delight You read all the books about the good Dr Siri. And treat it like the prequel it is - respectful like an older brother to the actual series.
What a heartwarming story, not initially in the style of Colin Cotterill but soon recognisable as his. Set at first in 1970's Indiana and narrated in the style of the black (sorry, burnt sienna) native of that state, it's the tale of Waldo, a very large black worker in the pool-ball factory soon to be retired and his meeting and the ongoing relationship with a Laos girl. Very very funny, deeply touching and shocking in parts. A must, must, must read.
I picked up this book in a bookshop in Kampot and am very glad I did as it tells a great story - it made me laugh out loud, become angry at man's indifference and cruelty to women (and girls) and cry, due to the poignancy and outcome of the story.
It takes a couple of chapters to get engrossed in the story as the characters bed themselves in and the relationship develops between Waldo and China. Having recently returned from Burma, the description of Laos in the book took me back to my trip to Burma and this book should be read by any lovers of South East Asian countries.
You know what you are getting with a Colin Cotterill book. Thoroughly enjoyed his sense of humour and my only disappointment was that it was not available as a physical book, to share among my friends who enjoyed Dr Siri/Jim Juree books.