Cotterill, Colin - 'Curse of the Pogo Stick'
CURSE OF THE POGO STICK is the fifth book featuring Dr Siri Paiboun, 73 years old and the only coroner in the People's Democratic Republic of Laos, and hosting the spirit of an ancient shaman to boot. He's been forced to attend a national political conference in Xiang Khouang in the north with his boss, Judge Haeng, leaving his team (the newly pregnant Nurse Dtui, and Deung, who has Down's syndrome) to man the mortuary. Possibly to alleviate the boredom, Siri shouts out at the conference as he notices that one of the participants has died in his seat, during a long speech on 'the allocation of cattle'. As punishment, Haeng tells him that instead of flying straight home to Vientiane, they will be driving through Xiang Khouang to 'show confidence' in the security measures of the province. This dangerous measure results in the friendly kidnap of Siri by the local Hmong, hill tribes-people, who have need of his shaman powers. Meanwhile, back in the mortuary, a dead body brought in for autopsy turns out to be booby trapped, and would have exploded if Nurse Dtui hadn't been sharp eyed. Someone has a grudge against Siri and his co-workers, leaving Dtui, her husband Phosy and friends with another mystery to solve.
The pogo stick of the title turns out to be connected to the Hmong. Many of their young men were taken away to fight by the Americans, with the promise of beautiful things in return, of which the pogo stick was one. The pogo stick is a cursed toy brought back by one of the first recruits, fought over by young children in the village, and a symbol of the loss of many of the villagers to the American army, with many more leaving as a result of fear of persecution by the army of Laos. Now, the few remaining Hmong want Siri to help the daughter (Chamee) of the headman. Chamee is apparently harbouring a demon and is living on her own in a cursed hut, which gives Siri a nasty shock when he tries to enter. As usual, Siri eventually works out what is going on using good common sense and some help from one of the village women, called Bao. Meanwhile, Dtui and Phosy, hot on the trail of the attempted murdered appear to walk straight into a trap.
The two parallel stories are skilfully weaved together on the intriguing backdrop of the local Hmong and their customs, and the archaic rules and regulations of the People's Democratic Republic, of which the latter fortunately only represent rather small impediments to Dtui's and Phosy's investigation. In the end, the outcomes of the book represent another triumph of common sense over old-fashioned customs, whether dealing with evil spirits or the finding of a murderer. An engrossing read, in which the different strands are pulled together professionally to provide a complete and enjoyable whole.
Michelle Peckham, England