Fifth book in the Siri adventures proves delightful. In this installment we are introduced to Hmong culture, opening with an interpretation of how the Hmong lost their history and written language. The first shaman gifts his people with the geng pipes, so they would be able to guide the dead to the Otherworld, giving them "a musical language that communicated directly from one soul to another." The piping transports us to the world of the morgue, where two auditors investigating Siri are complaining about a Hmong beggar's playing. It's a haunting transition, showing the difference between the richness of a culture, and the realities of economic oppression, and is quickly balanced with a moment of humor: "Dtui has known straightaway that the task was impossible... her boss had handwriting so horrible he could hardly read it himself. Dipping a cockroach in ink and having it scamper around the page would have left traces more legible to the average reader." It is a sublime transition typical of Cotterill's writing, the moments of beauty or humor interspersed with hard-edged reality, and it is one of the reasons I'm inordinately fond of the Dr. Siri series.The first plot revolves around a possible attempt on Siri's life, initially foiled by Dtui. Shortly after, she and Madame Daeng lure Civilai out of retirement to join them in their investigation. Meanwhile, Siri is forced into a attending the quarterly Party Planning and Progress Conference and discovers a dead man in the audience. He causes a small scene, and as his punishment, Judge Haeng has him accompany him through the countryside in a Party demonstration. Unfortunately, Siri is kidnapped and the second mystery begins.Narrative was more streamlined, told in more linear fashion with fewer character jumps, much to the benefit of the story. The spiritual element was integrated well, although apparently the spirits present a problem of description: "Tenses were annoyingly unhelpful when it came to the afterlife." Scenes of the countryside are described beautifully, conveying the love Siri (and the author) has for the country. The touches of humor are still present, more delightfully than ever: "It was a Lao-Mexican standoff. Haeng couldn't fire Siri and they both knew it."I love Dr. Siri. I love learning vicariously and however fictionally about communist Laos. I find that Cotterill usually achieves a good story, and I usually enjoy his use of language. Four stars instead of five for a few reasons. One is that I had fears of Dtui and Daeng turning into Lulu and Grandma from the Stephanie Plum mysteries, a crisis narrowly averted at this time. Second, although I am no historian, I rather feel quite a lot of modernisms are creeping into the story. In one instance, Siri tells the Judge, "I was waiting for the movie version," which feels suspiciously modern for 1970s Laos. Third, the ending was a little forced, done reunion "summing up" style at a dinner house. Fourth, my proximity alarm for Western imperialism is beeping, although I'm still running diagnostics to discover the source. Still, the story is done well enough that I feel such quibbles can be overcome. A delightful read; without doubt I'll be continuing with the series.Favorite throw away line: "Mrs. Fah's kids were running around like headless chicks, shaking off the cobwebs they'd gathered at school."