The Rat Catchers' Olympics
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The series is about a 70-something doctor who finds himself appointed as the national coroner, and must do the best he can amid shortages of supplies - and lots of political pressure. (By this point in the series he's been removed from his post for all the trouble he's caused, but he stays involved in the social and political life of his village and places beyond.) Despite the often-harsh setting, the tone is very upbeat, with Siri's wit and humor shining through. And the supernatural touches add interest - and occasional confusion!
This book picks up after the events of I Shot the Buddha, with Siri and Madame Daeng returning a wee bit scathed (as in completely bald) from that adventure. Almost at once they're caught up in a new scheme, though; the time is 1980, and Laos is sending teams to the Summer Olympics in Moscow - the one boycotted by the US and over 60 other countries, leading to opportunities for smaller nations. I admit I was delighted by this plot-point, as the lack of US coverage of those Olympics left me unaware of their high points - and because the cancellation of the 2020 Summer Olympics due to COVID-19 made me crave some vicarious Olympic action, even if some of it's fictional.
The main plot has to do with the possibility that an assassin has been smuggled onto one of the Laotian teams, with Siri and company having to work out who it is and who the target might be - while enjoying their time in Moscow as much as possible. Meanwhile, Inspector Phosy is on the outs with his wife Dtui - he has a hard time telling her how much he loves her, as he's still damaged from the way his first wife took the kids and left him, and Dtui thinks that perhaps he doesn't love her at all and only married her for the sake of their baby. So Dtui goes along to Moscow with Siri and Co., while Phosy stays behind - and finds himself dealing with an assassin much closer to home...
The story has lots of fun with the Olympics setting, including riffs on the ways host cities often do some creative whitewashing to make the areas look better to an international audience than they really are. Then there's the womanizing Laotian boxer whose amatory exploits get him in serious trouble - but may help break the case; the underdog Laotian teams who become famous for the enthusiasm with which their fans cheer everything they do, even if they come in last; and the speed-walking Laotian, who may be the only one with a realistic chance at a medal. Oh, and the rat catchers of the title - one from Laos, who's happily betting the local rat-catchers that he could beat them using his own methods. [Yes, there is a "ratcatchers' olympics" late in the story, very entertaining - not, perhaps, for the rats, but for the characters and the audience.]
Will Phosy find the strength to tell his wife he loves her? And will he escape the deadly attentions of a brutal thug in time to try? Will Siri solve the crime before anything blows up or anyone gets killed - or, if not, will he finally be able to commune with the spirits of the dead himself, without needing an intermediary? [The supernatural aspect of the series continues, still low-key but significant.]
Often very funny, sometimes highly suspenseful, with a nice little plot twist or three - another enjoyable entry in this series. (And may I just say what a badass Phosy's turned out to be? I think even Madame Daeng, perhaps the toughest character in the series, would admire the way he handles things here...)
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