In Colin Cotterill’s latest mystery set in Laos, coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun resorts to some unusual methods to help solve the murders of three women.

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‘I Shot the Buddha’

by Colin Cotterill

Soho, 352 pp., $26.95

 

It’s a good thing Dr. Siri Paiboun, the retired Laotian coroner in Colin Cotterill’s terrifically entertaining mysteries, is comfortable with a strong whiff of the unexplainable.

For one thing, his beloved wife, Madame Daeng, has a petite tail — a small price to pay, considering the potion that caused it also cured her arthritis. For another thing, Siri is OK with, say, getting occasional advice from a dead cross-dressing fortuneteller.

Author Cotterill, a Brit who lives in Thailand, points out the book’s emphasis on the supernatural right away, in an introductory “mental health warning:” “For those of you who prefer your mysteries dull and earthly, this is not the tome for you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

It’s 1979, and a dreary Communist regime is draining Laos of color, culture and zest — not to mention its deep roots in Buddhism and animism.

Dr. Siri and Madame Daeng keep despair at bay, however, through a combination of sly good humor, cynical observations, and the companionship of some very odd friends and housemates.

Notable among them is Siri’s best friend Civilai, who (like the coroner) is very much a live wire despite being in his 70s. (Madame Daeng can get pretty spicy herself, if you know what I mean.) Others in the supporting cast include Nurse Dtui, Siri’s no-nonsense former assistant, and Geung, a mentally challenged and thoroughly endearing morgue assistant.

The book opens with the separate murders of three women. We cut then to Siri helping a wandering Thai “forest monk,” Noo, to escape from a dangerous situation. Then Noo disappears, leaving a note imploring Siri to smuggle another monk back to Thailand. Cotterill cleverly merges Siri’s resulting adventure with case of the three murdered women.