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“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”
― Voltaire

Disco For The Departed - Colin Cotterill Like the little girl Panoy, I too wish I could reach up and tug on Dr. Siri's fluffy white eyebrows, hopefully convince him to tell a story or two about the spirits and his coroner's cases. He's a delightful old man who is learning to appreciate new talents, including a spirit-provided gift of rhythm in his step. Disco is a treasure of an adult tale, with a lush foreign setting, an intriguing mystery, a fine balance of both darkness and humor, and touches of spirits and black magic. Dr. Siri and Dtui are shipped off to rural Huaphan Province in northern Laos by Judge Haeng and find themselves staying at state "Guesthouse" Number One. At Comrade Lit's requests, they investigate the mysterious surfacing of a mummified arm near the President's house. The Huaphan Provine was the seat of the current Communist government during the revolution, and both the reader and Dtui learn more about the rebellion and Dr. Siri's history with the local hospital. Narrative is back to focusing on Dr. Siri, although we also spend some time following Gueng--quite literally, as he makes a tremendous journey across rural Laos. The mystery and the mystical elements are both well done. I happen to love the way the spirits give Dr. Siri special insight, but this time he combines investigative work with his ambiguous dreams. Scattered throughout, of course, is commentary on the Communist regime, the sort of deep ambivalence that comes from the perspective of a long and thoughtful life. Following Geung also gives the opportunity to learn more about the rural Lao, and especially coping post-revolution. It is fascinating reading about the caves the rebel army used, and their strategies for staying hidden from American planes. One of the remarkable achievements of the series is how it is able to give the reader insight into fighting a war that indirectly involved Americans, and yet not vilify either side. I enjoy Cotterill's use of language, especially his culturally contextual comparisons. Take, for instance, the morning Mr. Geung woke "wrapped in a canvas tarpaulin like pork in a Chinese spring roll," which brings a touch of the comedic with some unusual imagery. Actually, food analogies seem to frequently occur around Mr. Geung, who "was no scarier than a Chinese dumpling." Dtui's situation "sat heavily on her mind like the carcass of an overweight sloth." Then there's the throwaway lines of perfect ironic construction, such as the "two-story building designed by Vietnamese rectangulists," creating marvel at his ability to convey so many implications with so few words. He also brings multiple layers of emotion to the story: "Dtui countered with a typical Lao Band-Aid smile that covered no end of emotional cuts and bruises" and "Just like that, the village had painlessly filled the gap... like white blood corpuscles healing a wound and leaving no scar."An excellent series. I'm excited to have the next waiting on my shelf.