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Disco for the Departed (2006)

by Colin Cotterill

Series: Dr. Siri Paiboun (3)

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6103833,979 (3.89)225
Dr. Siri Paiboun is summoned to the mountains of Huaphan Province, where for years the leaders of the current communist government hid in caves, waiting to assume power. Now a major celebration of the new regime is scheduled to take place, but an arm is found protruding from the concrete walk laid from the president's former cave hideout to his new house beneath the cliffs. Siri must supervise the disinterment of the body attached to the arm, identify it, and determine the cause of death. The autopsy provides some surprises, but it is his gifts as a shaman that enable the seventy-three-year-old doctor to discover why the victim was buried alive and to identify the killer.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 37 (next | show all)
The Vietnamese head of security proposes to nurse Dtui:
"Siri would be down on The Veranda describing their visit with Dr Santiago to the small-minded security head. What a let down he'd turned out to be. before he suddenly turned into a raging communist nazi, Dtui had even considered him as a prospective mate. His cool smile and lean frame fitted her forever-shrinking list of requirements. unfortunately, she held firmly to the belief that the man for her had to have a mind of his own, an increasingly difficult order to fill. now that she had ruled him out, she thought it best to opt out of the evening's briefing downstairs."

Dr Santiago speaks russian and spanish. Nurse Dtui speaks textbook English and russian so she tries to translate from Dr Santiago for Siri. From the beginning Santiago tries to pull the wool over their eyes:
"Dtui was having trouble keeping up with him, so Santiago agreed to simplify both his language and his explanations. He told them that in the beginning, he'd considered the negritos to be friendly men, always in a happy mood. They worked hard and were good at their jobs. But Santiago has started to hear rumors, bad rumors from his staff. his country, as well as haiti, had a tradition of black magic going all the way back to africa. In Haiti it was known as Voudoun; in cuba, Palo mayombe. Cubans believe that Palo remedies could cure all ills. They could charm a lover and even change the ugly into the beautiful. Dr Santiago joked that he obviously hadn't sampled that particular remedy.
in general the remedies did no harm. Many Cubans tried them just as the average person in laos might read a horoscope. some visited their shaman for counseling and a chance to have a chat. some famous Palo mayombe shamans were known to perform miracles. most did only good for their communities. But there was a small cult, a branch of palo, which was very dark. it was known as endoke, a word derived from the name of the darkest spirit, which utilized sacrifices and bloodletting to invoke the spirits. Santiago had known patients who had suffered as a result of endoke."

Santiago, Dtui and Siri explore the caves and find the altar where supposedly Los negritos worked their endoke.
" 'how many?' Siri asked. He'd removed his flashlight headband and was squinting back in the direction from which they walked.
Dtui didn't even bother to translate the question. 'three on each side, doc. Come on. keep up. I've told...' She suddenly realized the question wasn't directed to her. Siri wasn't involved in their conversation at all. She shone her flashlight beam into the empty tunnel. The lights seem to snap Siri out of a trance.
'one of them is coming,' he said to Dtui.
'one of whom?'
'The spirits of the negrito's.'
she was reluctant to translate this but she owed it to santiago. The old doctor seemed to take the news even worse than she did. He backed up against the altar, his black-olive colored eyes flitting back and forth across the darkness.
'should we do anything?' Dtui whispered.
'no,' Siri told her, still looking down the empty tunnel. 'she says there's nothing for us to worry about'
Dtui didn't want to know who 'she' was. She took hold of siri's arm and held her breath. Behind her she could hear the Cuban muttering. She moved her head from side to side but her flashlight was useless. Only Siri could see the visitor.
he was naked and black as pitch. his face was a gathering of ill-matched features. He came loping urgently towards Siri and stood in front of him. Although Siri assumed this was the smaller of the two men, he still had to tilt his head upward to look into the man's empty eyes. And there they stood, neither seeming to know what to do next. The black man became frustrated and grew angry. He seemed to look over Siri's shoulder at Dtui with unconcealed fury. he raised his fist as if to strike her and bared his teeth.
'Dtui, Step back. Stand next to Santiago,' Siri shouted.
She did it she was told even though she could see no spirits. Siri stood with his neck craned upward and his arms out to his sides. He clenched his fists and shuddered slightly. the shudder grew in intensity, became more like the vibration of a silent truck engine. Santiago looked on with astonishment as Siri starting to shake with such violence they knew some external force was exerting itself. Fearing for his safety, dtui threw her arms around the doctor. All the strength she could muster didn't stop his movement. Then all at once, he went limp in her arms, and she lowered him to the ground. for several seconds there was no movement, no sound. Dtui put her hand in front of Siri's mouth but felt no breath. then, just as suddenly as he had collapsed, his eyes opened and he gave her a friendly smile.
'nurse dtui, you really will have to resist those urges to throw yourself at me.' "

Siri wears an amulet to try to deflect the evil spirits that are drawn to the shaman's spirit that resides in him.
"Siri had asked why, if the two men were so powerful, Santiago hadn't been afraid of retribution. The Cuban had smiled broadly and had slowly begun to unbutton his shirt. Siri and Dtui were astounded by what they saw. a necklace of talismans hung like a mayoral chain of office against his undershirt. This esteemed man of science was adorned with a lei of talismans, dried flowers, nuggets of metal, miscellaneous teeth, and carefully placed knots. It was a wonder he could stand upright under its weight. siri's single white amulet paled by comparison. Santiago admitted openly his fear of the two Endoke priests. Siri felt oddly comforted that he wasn't the only man of learning forced to use magic to stay alive."

Dtui and siri's lab assistant is a man with downs syndrome named geung. While dtuia and Siri are gone to the northwest of the country, judge Heung has geung kidnapped. He believes Geung is an embarrassment as Siri's, the country's coroner, assistant. Geung is kidnapoed to an army base, but he manages to escape. He had promised Dr Siri that he would stay in the morgue and keep it clean. He had to keep his promise. So he began to walk the length of the country to return to Vientiane.
"He felt bad that he had to stay so long in Thangon. That old man, his father, made him feel sad, but he wasn't sure why. some voice in his head had told him he ought to stay. it wasn't the voice that reminded him constantly of his promise and his obligations. The past few days had been confusing for geung. he didn't know which voice to listen to, then Dtui came back. He was glad to see her. She sorted it all out for him.
she reminded him of this thing called Love. it was something she liked to talk about a lot. She told him that even though there were times it didn't seem possible - times when you'd much sooner find fault and hate - these were the times you most needed to love. She told him his father deserved it. He didn't have to earn it. he was family, and there was a rule that members of a family got a share of love from each other just by being born of the same love. Geung wondered when he'd be getting his. But perhaps it was something you only got back if you gave it out. His father had nothing. even geung could tell that . A little something would probably do him good. that's why, on the night before geung restarted his long march, he kissed his drunken father on the forehead and told him he loved him.
The confused man had pushed his moron son away in disgust and wiped the gesture from his skin as if it were a slithering insect. he told his son things that could have hurt but didn't. geung said how proud he was to have a smart father who came by every month to tell him news and see how he was. as he turned in for the night, he could see the old man doing a lot of thinking about things. He might have even cried a little, but rice whiskey does that to a man, too."

This is number three in this adorable series. I will be reading number four. I have to find out what happens when nurse Dtui goes to Russia to begin her medical studies. ( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
Dr. Siri and the Cubans
Review of the Vintage Canada paperback edition (2007) of the Soho Crime hardcover original (2006)

I was late to the party and started my reading of Colin Cotterill's quirky Laos chief coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries with the 15th and supposed (I never rule out the possibility of continuations) final book "The Delightful Life of a Suicide Pilot" (2020). Luckily, my friend Karan had several of the earliest books to lend me and I was fortunately able to start the series from the beginning.

Disco for the Departed is the 3rd book of the series and is titled after a ghostly discotheque that the spiritually attuned coroner is drawn to during his investigation of the apparent deaths of some Cuban advisors in a northern province of Laos. Siri and nurse Dtui are both sent on the northern mission, leaving morgue attendant Geung Watajak at the mercy of their boss at the Justice Department, judge Huang. Geung is dispatched to the countryside with the army but promptly decides to walk back to the Vientiane capital. The book then regularly toggles between Siri's investigation and the perils of Geung's journey.

This series continues to delight with its overviews of Lao lifestyles and culture, the human persistence in the face of bureaucratic incompetence and Dr. Siri's unique investigative methods that combine spiritual perception with common sense intuition. I've already sourced #4 in the series, Anarchy and Old Dogs (2007), thanks to the Toronto Public Library. ( )
  alanteder | Apr 27, 2021 |
Read this really quickly. Rates more than 3 stars. Particularly enjoyed the focus on nurse Dtui and Geung. ( )
  Ma_Washigeri | Jan 23, 2021 |
Disco for the Departed is the third book in the series about Dr. Siri Paiboun. Siri is the National Coroner in Laos. The book takes place in 1977, a time when the new communist government has taken over in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. In this book, a body is found in a concrete walk connecting the President’s former cave hideout to his new house. Dr. Siri is called in to identify the body and to determine the circumstances surrounding the person's death. I enjoy these books a lot and this one was no exception. The setting and time is different and interesting. I like reading about what it was like in Laos as it transitions to Communism, especially from the perspective of a character that is a member of the Communist Party (although he is critical of both the former and current governments). I really like all of the characters and and I am happy when I return to them in each book in the series. ( )
  Cora-R | Jan 14, 2021 |
More murders, mysteries, spirit sightings and adventures for Dr. Siri Paiboun and his Nurse Dtui. Meanwhile, Mr. Geung, their morgue assistant who has Downs Syndrome, is whisked far away on orders of Paiboun's erstwhile superior, Judge Han and has his own harrowing adventure getting back to his duties at the morgue.

I've enjoyed every story so far and am on to the fourth! ( )
  Angel.Tatum.Craddock | Dec 17, 2020 |
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To Siri and Soun who, despite all the tragedies,
have survived and grown and now have two beautiful
daughters. To Poki and Panoy from Loong C.
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Dr Siri lay beneath the grimy mesh of the mosquito net watching the lizard's third attempt.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Dr. Siri Paiboun is summoned to the mountains of Huaphan Province, where for years the leaders of the current communist government hid in caves, waiting to assume power. Now a major celebration of the new regime is scheduled to take place, but an arm is found protruding from the concrete walk laid from the president's former cave hideout to his new house beneath the cliffs. Siri must supervise the disinterment of the body attached to the arm, identify it, and determine the cause of death. The autopsy provides some surprises, but it is his gifts as a shaman that enable the seventy-three-year-old doctor to discover why the victim was buried alive and to identify the killer.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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