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*Starred Review* The ninth entry in this series set in 1970s Laos has National Coroner Siri Paiboun, a man in his late seventies and perpetually on the verge of a longed-for retirement, again pulled back into service to examine remains. The road to those remains is circuitous, as is everything in communist-ruled Laos. It winds through the belief of the surviving brother of a long-dead Lao general that his brother's remains can be found through the clairvoyance of the woman of the title, a woman whom people saw burned on a funeral pyre but who appears again in the village with enhanced clairvoyant powers. It also winds through the suspicion that the excavation for the dead general's remains may really be in service of some other government goal. As Paiboun prepares to question the woman and find the remains, his new wife, Madame Daeng (who runs the most popular noodle shop in town), is stalked by one of her old French lovers. This quirky mystery is filled with unforgettably strange characters (for example, Dr. Siri is a Buddhist gourmand, crafty at getting around restrictions, haunted by thousands of spirits who appear before him regularly). It's also filled with Cotterill's dark humor, best seen in the characters' wry dialogue. Readers who appreciate reluctant cops and detectives, like Tarquin Hall's Indian sleuth, Vish Puri, or Stuart Kaminsky's Russian Inspector Rostnikov, will love Cotterill's cynical, haunted coroner.--Fletcher, Connie Copyright 2010 Booklist
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Cotterill has never been better than in this ninth outing for acerbic Dr. Siri Paiboun (after 2011's Slash and Burn), set in Laos in October 1978. A judge who heads the country's public prosecution department asks Siri, who has recently retired as Laos's coroner, to look into a bizarre case. The minister of agriculture's wife has hired Madame Keui-a witch dubbed the "used-to-be woman," because she's alive and kicking two months after her corpse was consigned to a funeral pyre-to help lay to rest the ghost of the minister's brother, believed to have been killed on a covert op in 1969. Siri, who views the boundary between the natural and the supernatural worlds as porous, soon finds himself in the midst of the most baffling murder case of his career. The action builds to an ingenious resolution. A subplot adds a nice layer of depth to the character of Siri's wife, Madame Daeng. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.