This is a weird day. I’m realizing that somehow (unless I’m just missing posts on my own blog, which is very very very possible) I’ve never had a Cocktail Talk featuring Dr. Siri Paiboun. Weird, right? I mean, you think so, too, I’m sure. If you don’t, it must mean you don’t know Dr. Siri, which would also be weird. But just in case, he’s the main character (and what a character!) in a series of books by a dandy writer named Colin Cotterill. Dr. Siri – at the beginning of the series – is the national coroner of Laos in the 70s, post communist revolution, and he solves a whole variety pack of mysteries in both traditional and non-traditional ways. The books are bubbling over with history, jolliness, a huge cast of memorable characters, spirits (Dr. Siri is the host of a thousand-year old shaman!), drinks and liquid spirits, insights into Laos at the time, fun, and at least two memorable dogs. The books are at the level of awesome where I sometimes forget that I don’t actually know Dr. Siri – which is high praise, I hope. You should read them all if you haven’t. I Shot the Buddha is especially full of magic and mystery (multiple mysteries, really), as Dr. Siri and his wife Madame Daeng (who also makes the best noodles) end up at a Thai village of spiritualists and mystics of various kinds – and it’s a spot where three murders have happened! Mr. Cotterill, in a kind gesture, says at the book’s beginning, “…this edition is headily spiced with supernatural elements. For those of you who prefer your mysteries dull and earthy, this is not the tome for you.” Let’s hope you like creative, individual, mysteries books as much as me, and as a much as Dr. Siri likes Scotch (and other tipples, between us).
As always, Siri’s travel baggage amounted to a small cloth shoulder bag with wool bobbles dangling from it. But everything he needed on a journey could fit comfortable into that bag. This evening it was oddly bulky. He reached into it and produced a bottle of whiskey, and not just any whiskey: Glenfiddich. Daeng welcomed it into her arms like a mother being handed her newborn for the first time.
–Colin Cotterill, I Shot the Buddha