“There was something sinister about this country. It wasn’t a comic parody of a socialist state, it was a deadly serious parody. It was as if they believed that this was how it was supposed to look. They’d read The Communist Manifesto and missed the point. Just as Christian and Muslim extremists found hatred and vengeance that didn’t exist in their respective manuals, these Red Khmer believed Marx and Lenin had called for the obliteration of personality and pleasure and free thought. Believed that blind allegiance was the only way to proliferate their doctrines. Civilai had never read it that way because that wasn't how it had been written.”
Colin Cotterill’s Love Songs from a Shallow Grave is a compelling story with a historically unique setting.
Cotterill writes two stories intertwined. One is the story of Laotian Coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun in Laos. Dr. Siri and his friends work to solve three murders. Someone kills three young women with unusual fencing swords.
The second story tells of Dr. Siri imprisoned in Communist Cambodia at the time of The Killing Fields (1978). This part is harrowing. Siri goes on a worthless diplomatic mission. Cambodian officials accuse him of spying. They imprison him in a cave of horrors. Even his captors kill each other.
“There’s always someone worse off than you,” Siri says, “unless you’re Cambodian.” This is in 1978.
Love Songs from a Shallow Grave starkly describes one of the most terrible times and places in all of human history.
The mystery in the novel has an unexpected resolution. And we learn more about the lives of Siri’s friends. They are the kind of people my father used to call, “fundamentally fine people.”
I can’t say enough good things about this book. For me, it worked on every level.