The Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill is an audible book and is an addition to my habit of reading one book per day. As if I had any free time to fill. I find audio books difficult. I can’t listen to them and do something else. It is my feeling that if I could do something else while listening to a book, the book would not be worth a lot. This book is worth full attention. The dry, understated, sometimes sarcastic humor is worth close listening. The narrator is amazing. I don’t think I will be able to listen to another book read by this narrator that is not in this series. Clive Chafer is Dr. Siri Paiboun, the unwilling national coroner of a reformed communist Laos.
I discovered this novel after listening to another title, Thirty-Three Teeth. I was amazed by the cleverness of dialogue between characters. I went on to find there are 10 books in the Dr. Siri series. I believe the average listening time for each book is just over six hours. They are available in print (and Kindle) but now that I have been caught up in the audible experience, I am going to stick with it. I have been a satisfied subscriber with Audible, an Amazon company, for several years.
Dr. Siri Paiboun is a patriot. He believed the Party when they said they were fighting for an independent Laos; one that would never again be the colony of another country. But Dr. Siri is also intelligent; he sees inconsistencies in the administration of the Party apparat. Not everyone is equal, not everything is fair. But Dr. Siri is old; he realizes that he cannot change the system. As he sees those around him going along to get along, he reacts in an age appropriate way. He uses sharp wit to make keen observations and on occasion turns the system around on itself.
In this novel, the 73-year old Dr. Siri is recently married to Deng, a 66-year old noodle seller. New readers will discover that Dr. Siri and Deng knew each other from early childhood. During a late-night session looking at stars, Deng recalls their earlier life, one in which each of them had wed someone else. Deng says that she did not regret not getting married to Dr. Siri in their earlier years when both were fighters for the Patriotic Front. Her recount of the events where she compared her and Dr. Siri’s life to the progress of a peanut makes the book worth buying. It would not be a spoiler if I told it, but it is beautifully and emotionally well told by author and narrator so I will leave it to them.
Dr. Siri is the national coroner of Laos by appointment. He would like to retire; he may have done so but the government refuses to accept his retirement; there is not another coroner in Laos. This government refusal contributes heavily to Dr. Siri’s droll, dry, sarcastic comments on Lao bureaucracy. His commentary is matched by Deng’s quick retorts and by interjections from his still active duty (but old) National Police friend and his retired former Politburo friend, now a baker. Once a politico, always a politico, so Dr. Siri has some indirect contact with the ruling elite. As the only coroner, Dr. Siri could be one of the ruling elite, but he chooses not to be.
One day the body of what had been a beautiful young woman appears at Dr. Siri’s morgue. Yes, he is 73, but he can still recognize beauty; this makes Deng happy. Dr. Siri detects that there has been foul play, he sees that she has been strangled and abused. Partially by listening to gossip, stuff that “everyone” knows and believes, Siri becomes aware of other girls who have mysteriously disappeared from their village homes, who have been killed in a similar manner, and who show evidence of similar abuse.
Dr. Siri, with the enthusiastic support of Deng, have a mission. But they need the help of the police, friend Phosy, and the information that could only come from a Politburo member (retired or ousted, Civilai.
And while they are sitting around thinking and planning, life goes on. A central housing authority wants to evict Sri from his government-assigned housing because Siri is not actually living there, he is living with wife Deng. The persistent officials don’t object to Siri and Deng living together (the two are married) but they don’t like the people who occupy Siri’s house; they are society’s misfits. Siri feels sorry for them and wants to help; officials want them filed and placed into government prescribed niches, like jails.
There are a few other stories also going on, but finding the murderer of village girls is the defining theme of this novel.
And there is a surprise ending. A part of the surprise is that you will miss it. Then you must wait (patiently) for Dr. Siri to explain.
I am a 100% dedicated fan of these books despite having read (listened to) only three. But I bought two more; they are on my TBL shelf. And I know I will purchase the other five. And then … Cotterill also wrote stuff outside the Dr. Siri series. I will check them out.