This is not going to be a long review because Colin Cotteril's latest entry in the Dr. Siri series, The Woman Who Wouldn't Die (2013, Soho Crime) is almost as good as its predecessors, and I've already written enthusiastically about them.
The gang's all here, although they split up to follow a crazy government request that involves a senior ministerial official, his dead brother, and a mysterious medium who is somehow a woman who has been killed twice and now is able to communicate with the dead. Naturally, Siri, who has, how shall we say, an active spirit (and I don't mean spiritual) life, is intrigued, and hops on a slow boat up the Mekhong to learn more. Madame Daeng goes along for the ride, as does Mr. Geung, who works and lives in Daeng's noodle shop these days. Civilai shows up, entertainingly drunk as a skunk half the time, while Phosy and Dtui track down some other leads back in Vientiane and environs. The characters are as delightfully smart and funny as always, and the goodwill and care shown for each other is infectious. Despite the weird and at times tense story, you find yourself wanting to hang out with these jolly folk.
While the undead-woman plot line is interesting, it is not the one that really provides dramatic tension to the story. The title might also refer to Siri's wife Daeng, whose very interesting backstory we finally learn her here. You might have suspected a fair amount of what is revealed, but you wouldn't necessarily see this coming. Milhist buffs, there's a neat twist toward the end, concerning the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu. True? Who knows, but maybe.
All of this said, the split plot here mutes the dramatic tension a bit. The resolution of that whole medium business is pretty fantastical, and I was disappointed that we didn't learn of Siri's reaction to the late unveiling of a particular character's dishonesty - that plot line felt incomplete. And while Daeng's story is vivid, it didn't have the same impact as the profound horror of Siri's experiences in Love Songs from a Shallow Grave, which I think has been the pinnacle of this series.
Still, it is a pleasure on a dreary winter day in New England to read a passage like this:
"Some twenty elephants on the far bank were knee-deep in the river, providing hosing services to one another. They'd been there since Siri first arrived, their mahout drowsing beneath a Laundry-Fruit tree with no particular hurry to move on." (196) I don't know what a Laundry-Fruit tree is, but I would like to be drowsing under one now.