Anarchy and Old Dogs

Monday, 11 October 2010

Predictably, Anarchy and Old Dogs starts off with another of the bizarre deaths that seem to be Cotterill's standard introductory modus operandi. This time it's Dr. Buagaew, a blind retired dentist who's run over by a Chinese logging truck after a visit to the Post Office.

Not much there to interest the National Coroner, one would have thought, except for the fact that the letter in his pocket appears to contain a blank piece of paper. It isn't really blank, of course, and once the invisible message is revealed and decrypted, Siri finds himself faced with evidence of a planned military coup to overthrow the two-year-old Socialist government.

Consultations with transvestite fortune-teller Auntie Bpoo suggests that Siri will end up betraying his country. He does, but not in the way you'd expect.

Since the letter was postmarked from southern Laos, Siri heads off to Pakse to investigate, taking Politburo member Civilai with him, since an anti-government coup is something that's going to need to be brought to the attention of those at the top of the hierarchy.

Given links to counter-revolutionary refugees in Thailand, police inspector Phosy and nurse Dtui masquerade as refugees to investigate matters in  a refugee camp on the other side of the border.

Sniffing around the southern Laotian city gives Cotterill a chance to fill in some of the background to Siri's earlier career, particularly his involvement with Free Laos (or Lao Issara) resistance against French rule and subsequent membership of the Pathet Lao.

There's also a hilarious interlude where Siri and Civilai watch a Bruce Lee movie where the on-screen dialogue has been replaced by amateurish completely unsynchronised propaganda read by three individuals with their backs to the screen.

On a more serious note, while waiting for news from across the border, Siri is drawn into investigating the mysterious drowning of a ten-year-old boy, which leads to an encounter with a Mekong river dolphin and takes him to, among other places, a former prince's the wedding-cake castle and a rural village where he attends a wedding and is paid in fish for his coronial efforts.

All these factors are enough to demonstrate to Siri that the revolution hasn't quite achieved the desired outcome. Civilai's assessment that 80 percent of our topic of conversation is about the inadequacy of our government, the government we fought for 30 years to install sums up the situation nicely, but counter-revolutionary plots are counter-revolutionary plots, and still need to be brought undone.

As the pieces fall into place, things aren't quite what they appear. The plot is foiled, the country may or may not have been saved, and Cotterill ends up with a couple of extra complications to the ongoing relationships between the various characters.

© Ian Hughes 2012