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Dr. Siri Paiboun, the 75-year-old ex-national coroner of Laos, may have more experience dissecting bodies than making art, but now that he’s managed to smuggle a fancy movie camera into the country, he devises a plan to shoot a Lao adaptation of War and Peace with his friend Civilai. The only problem? The Ministry of Culture must approve the script before they can get rolling. That, and they can’t figure out how to turn on the camera.
Meanwhile, the skeleton of a woman has appeared under the Anusawari Arch in the middle of the night. Siri puts his directorial debut on hold and assists his friend Phosy, the newly promoted Senior Police Inspector, with the ensuing investigation. Though the death of the unknown woman seems to be recent, the flesh on her corpse has been picked off in places as if something—or someone—has been gnawing on the bones. The plot Siri and his friends uncover involves much more than a single set of skeletal remains.
1980: The People’s Democratic Republic of Laos is proud to be competing in its first-ever Olympics. Of course, half the world is boycotting the Moscow Summer Olympic Games to protest the Soviet Union’s recent invasion of Afghanistan, but that has made room for athletes from countries that are usually too small or underfunded to be competitive—like Laos.
Ex-national coroner of Laos Dr. Siri Paiboun may be retired, but he and his wife, Madame Daeng, would do just about anything to have a chance to visit Moscow, so Siri finagles them a trip by getting them hired as medical advisers to the Olympians. Most of the athletes are young and innocent village people who have never worn running shoes, much less imagined anything as marvelous as the Moscow Olympic Village. As the competition heats up, however, Siri begins to suspect that one of the athletes is not who he says he is. Fearing a conspiracy, Siri and his friends investigate, liaising in secret with Inspector Phosy back home in Laos to see if the man might be an assassin. Siri’s progress is derailed when a Lao Olympian is accused of murder. Now in the midst of a murky international incident, Dr. Siri must navigate not one but two paranoid government machines to make sure justice is done.
Life has taken a funny turn for Siri Paiboun. After years in obscurity, his country needs him. He is to be their only coroner. Because he's the only doctor left.
It's not as flattering as it could be, and when one of the leaders' wives turns up in his hot, shabby, smelly morgue, and he's expected to solve her murder, things take a turn for the worse. He has no experience, training or equipment to speak of, and his only hope are his two trusty assistants - neither of whom know anything either - and his own mental resources.
As if this weren't enough, the tortured bodies of several soldiers start floating to the surface of a lake and this second case is even more politically charged than his first. Only Siri's wit, charm and sense of the ridiculous will get him through this…
Vientiane, 1980: For a man of his age and in his corner of the world, Dr. Siri, the 76-year-old former national coroner of Laos, is doing remarkably well—especially considering the fact that he is possessed by a thousand-year-old Hmong shaman. That is, until he finds a mysterious note tied to his dog’s tail. Upon finding someone to translate the note, Dr. Siri learns it is a death threat addressed not only to him, but to everyone he holds dear. Whoever wrote the note claims the job will be executed in two weeks.
Thus, at the urging of his wife and his motley crew of faithful friends, Dr. Siri must figure out who wants him dead, prompting him to recount three incidents over the years: an early meeting with his lifelong pal Civilai in Paris in the early ’30s, a particularly disruptive visit to an art museum in Saigon in 1956, and a prisoner of war negotiation in Hanoi at the height of the Vietnam War in the ’70s. There will be grave consequences in the present if Dr. Siri can’t decipher the clues from his past.
Laos, 1979: Retired coroner Siri Paiboun and his wife, Madame Daeng, have never been able to turn away a misfit. As a result, they share their small Vientiane house with an assortment of homeless people, mendicants, and oddballs. One of these oddballs is Noo, a Buddhist monk, who rides out on his bicycle one day and never comes back, leaving only a cryptic note in the refrigerator: a plea to help a fellow monk escape across the Mekhong River to Thailand.
Naturally, Siri can’t turn down the adventure, and soon he and his friends find themselves running afoul of Lao secret service officers and famous spiritualists. Buddhism is a powerful influence on both morals and politics in Southeast Asia. In order to exonerate an innocent man, they will have to figure out who is cloaking terrible misdeeds in religiosity.
Siri Paiboun is suddenly a busy man. Five months into his new role as National (and only) Coroner, he has been called to the capital on a 'matter of national security'.
Soon enough, he's examining carbonized corpses, meeting the deposed king and attending a shaman's conference.
Meanwhile, back at his woefully inadequate morgue, savagely mauled bodies are piling up and Siri's assistant decides to investigate. Can she be dealing with a weretiger, or is it a bear of some kind? Whatever kind of animal has thirty-three teeth?
Number Ten: Tom Tom is the tenth in a new series of Colin Cotterill short stories featuring his female news reporter and detective, Jimm Juree. Fans of Jimm know her from the four novels where, with the help of the members of her strange family, she usually solves the crime. Move over Miss Marple, Jimm Juree does it for the 21st Century.
Dr Siri Paiboun may be in his seventy-third year, but he's still as sturdy as a jungle boar - and as crafty as one. Reluctant coroner to the Lao People's Democratic Republic, he's been despatched to the country's mountainous north where the sudden appearance of a mummified arm protruding from a concrete path laid in front of the President's new mansion has caused an understandable degree of embarrassment.
Dr Siri's disinterment and autopsy of the body attached to the arm provide some grisly surprises but it is his gifts as a shaman that put the septuagenarian doctor on the trail of the killer. As Siri and his team close in, they must tackle a marriage proposal, brave the perils of life on the open road, and come face-to-face with a horrific sacrificial ritual. Is it any wonder Dr Siri takes up disco dancing?
A stout American lady tourist has been kidnapped in Maprao, South Thailand. The police need Jimm's expertise, or at least her English language reading skills. This case needs Jimm and her friendly local policemen, Chom, to figure out what's gone on.
Siri is convinced someone is trying to send him a message and won’t let the matter rest until he’s figured it out. He finagles a trip up north to the province where the sin was made, not realizing he is embarking on a deadly scavenger hunt. Meanwhile, the northern Lao border is about to erupt into violence—and Dr. Siri and his entourage are walking right into the heart of the conflict.
In this story, Jimm, exiled from the north of Thailand and just about surviving in the south, finds a new career by accident. Being Jimm, a crime is never far away.
We will be adding to this short story series every couple of months. Collect them all.
Number Seven: Sex on the Beach is the seventh in a new series of Colin Cotterill short stories featuring his female news reporter and detective, Jimm Juree. Fans of Jimm know her from the four novels where, with the help of the members of her strange family, she usually solves the crime. Move over Miss Marple, Jimm Juree does it for the 21st Century.