Sunday, January 15, 2012


In Colin Cotterill’s The Merry Misogynist, Dr. Siri Paiboun again shows his strength, his stubbornness, and his concern for people.

I love these books. Set in Laos in the late 1970s, they are a delight when it comes to character and setting.

The Merry Misogynist has three main stories. Laos’ only coroner, Dr. Paiboun, and his staff do the autopsy on a horribly sexually mutilated woman. The corpse is just one in a string of similarly abused corpses Paiboun expects to find strung across the countryside.

Because of the nature of the back country, a serial murderer can hide his murders. And this serial killer is clever in a special way.

At the same time, Paiboun’s assistant Dtui is pregnant with her first child. And Paiboun’s apparently-homeless friend is missing.

This third story leads to one example of Cotterill’s trademark humor. Paiboun’s wife holds a knife on an excited Buddhist monk. The bizarre scene gives Paiboun the time he needs to rescue his homeless friend.

Again in this story, Paiboun struggles with government officials. The irony is never lost on him. He suffered hardship to put these people in power.

This time the housing authority tries to put him out of his home because he takes in hurting people.

Paiboun himself lives with his wife over her noodle shop. He has found true love in the twilight of his life. He and Madame Daeng the noodle maker have one of the great loves in the mystery novels I read.

Along with its humor and compelling story, this is a book that promotes women’s rights. Paiboun works with the women’s league to find the killer. All but one of the story lines deals with women’s issues.

Discrimination against women is rampant in 1978 Laos. The government nominally gives women the right to vote, but no women hold positions of authority. Things haven’t changed except that they have changed for Siri Paiboun. He refuses to ignore the exploitations of rural Laotian women. Their best hope is to marry a wealthy man who will whisk them away. That makes them vulnerable to serial murderers like the one Siri brings to justice.

As most often happens with these books, the story ends with action.

These books fill a special niche for me. I enjoy the setting and the characters. I have yet to read a boring Siri Paiboun book.

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