Thirty-Three Teeth by Colin Cotterill
Thirty-Three TeethEven though he is over 70 years old, Dr. Siri Paiboun is the only Communist doctor in post-revolution Laos. Thus, as a good Comrade, he has been appointed national coroner of the country. Although he can usually stay in Vientiane, his own city, he could be called anywhere in the country. He also has recently discovered that there is more to himself than he had previously realized. He doesn’t speak of it, though, because hosting a spirit doesn’t go together with the atheist Communistic spirit.
The king has been deposed and many royalists have fled across the river to other countries. Dr. Siri has fought for Communism his whole adult life. Even so, he is starting to see cracks in the new government. Plus, the hold of the past has not yet let go of Laos. Two men’s bodies were found in the road on top of a bicycle. One appeared to have flown out of the air and dropped on the other man. Although Dr. Siri checks the scene of the accident, he cannot understand how the first man could have jumped or fallen to the place where his body was found.
They get the body of a woman who appears to have been mauled by an animal. His nurse, Nurse Dtui, becomes interested. When more bodies killed the same way come in, Dr. Siri lets her take over the examination. She would be a good pathologist, but Dr. Siri has little hopes for her chances. Then he is called away up north to examine a couple more bodies. These men appear to have been in a helicopter crash. No one is admitting anything about such a crash. When yet a fourth body appears to have been mauled. Nurse Dtui decided to see if she could determine who killed these people.
Both Dr. Siri and Nurse Dtui are investigating dangerous situations. Neither know haw dangerous things are. Dr. Siri is able to visit his sister-in-law and tell the news of his wife’s death. Then he runs into an man he never expected to meet. Nurse Dtui starts looking for the killer of the women. Although an unlikely hero, Dr. Siri sets out to save them both.
Thirty-Three Teeth isn’t a normal murder mystery book. There are mysterious murders, but they don’t connect and are not the focus of the book. Colin Cotterill has used Thirty-Three Teeth to show life in 1970’s Laos. The mind set of the government and the every day man are integral to this story. The spiritualism of the people in the country at the time is important to the book.
Cotterill winds around his tale. It looks like it’s going forward then he’ll twist it back on itself. He lets the characters build the story, taking them where they seem to want to go. The politics of the country are also a major piece of the telling. The politics are part of the character as much as the people are.
Although a fairly small book (barely over 200 pages), Thirty-Three Teeth is a good read. It makes you want to keep going in the series. This novel is a window into another culture in a not-far-removed time. Watch out when pragmatic Communism and eerie spiritualism get together.