Disco For The Departed  - Colin Cotterill This is the third book in the series about Siri Paiboun, "the feisty 73-year-old national coroner of Laos" (as the backcover blurb says). This time he has to use his deductive powers and access to the spirit world to solve the deaths of three people before the Laotian and Vietnamese politburos show up at the old rebel capital for a national celebration.

Cotterill lets the less-than-benevolent side of the Pathet Lao show through a bit more here than in the previous two entries but the emphasis is still on the inefficiency and bureaucratic inanity of the government (Nurse Dtui is "courted" by the local security commander, who clears his marriage proposal with the Social Relations Council before asking her), and the focus is on the three main characters of the series: Dr. Siri, Nurse Dtui and Mr. Geung.

Dr. Siri was a doctor and soldier with the Pathet Lao, and hoped to enjoy a well-earned retirement after they defeated the Royalists but finds himself press ganged into being the national coroner when most other doctors in the country flee to Thailand or otherwise abroad. Though he believes in the ideals of the party, he joined the Communists largely because his beloved wife Boua had. Over the years, particularly after his wife dies, Siri has become disillusioned with the Party's methods and effectiveness but does his best to ensure that the unfortunates who come to his table receive some sort of justice. Nurse Dtui is his young female protege; the equal (potentially) of Siri at the operating table, she's just as good a detective as the good doctor outside the morgue. Mr. Geung is a young man with Down syndrome who works as Siri's lab assistant. Taken in by the previous coroner, Geung, ironically, knows more about autopsies and morgue procedures than either Siri or Dtui did when they first arrived.

Cotterill is good at invoking both the brutal realities of life for Laotians and the compassion that it can induce.

While the mystery is definitely secondary to the narrative, it is satisfactorily convoluted enough so that the reader doesn't immediately figure out what's going on. The only potential problem I foresee is that Cotterill may come to rely on Siri's access to the spirit world as a deus ex machina - if he can't figure things out deductively, Siri will just ask his spirit friends.