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by Colin Cotterill
Soho, August 2018
304 pages
ISBN: 1616959401

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

People hardly ever smuggled goods into Communist Laos, especially anything that looked like a large weapon. Dr. Siri and his friend Civilai do just that, only the smuggled item is not a weapon. It's a movie camera, an almost new Panavision Panaflex Gold movie camera. They have no idea how to operate this device and they plan on making a movie. There are plenty of other hurdles in their path: permits, finding actors, getting a script approved - the list is seemingly endless. They are determined and they have ways to work around the bureaucracy. This is the Laotian version of the "two steps forward, one step back" dance. Civilai and Dr. Siri can do this one in their sleep.

In the meantime, the corpse of a young woman turns up in a fairly public place. There isn't much left of her; she's been eaten away by some kind of animal(s). Dr. Siri and Senior Inspector Phosy Vongvichai try to figure out who the woman is, how she got to her final resting place, and as much of what happened between her death and her display as they can. This storyline is the complicated and very political aspect of DON'T EAT ME. Old enemies reveal just how deep their grudges go. Old policies, reworked since the new regime came to power, show up in new and revised forms, many of them worse than the old ways.

This is lucky thirteen in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series. Cotterill knows his characters inside and out; for readers, it is always a delight to encounter depths of character in Dr. Siri (and others) that one wasn't aware of before. There is a level of the occult and/or magic in Dr. Siri's life that may well meet the criteria for "magical realism." His spirit guide, a very unconvincing transvestite named Auntie Bpoo, is trying (with varying degrees of success) to lead him down a spiritual path. Right now they are in the Arctic. Cotterill does manage, and quite successfully, to connect this journey with the case of the skeletonized young woman.

Cotterill writes convoluted stories. His cast of characters can be almost overwhelming, although not difficult to follow as the story goes on. The political shenanigans are not at all unbelievable, especially if one has read previous entries in the series. The "deus ex machina" resolution to SPI Phosy Vongvichai's demise does, however, stretch the bonds of credulity (at least for this reader). While the social agenda may be a trifle heavy handed, readers who have enjoyed Cotterill's books in the past will almost certainly find much to savor in DON'T EAT ME.

§ I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I have been a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by PJ Coldren, May 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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