Love Songs From a Shallow Grave

Monday, 11 October 2010

Reading the seventh Dr Siri investigation, Love Songs From A Shallow Grave, I found it difficult to avoid the suspicion that the national and only coroner of the People's Democratic Republic of Laos isn't going to be with us very much longer. Now, under ideal circumstances, the series would go rolling on, maintaining its own momentum as Siri and his associates go about their day by day, week by week existence with a new seemingly incomprehensible murder to solve every three months or so.

On the other hand, after seven volumes in the series you could forgive the author if he's running out of ideas. This time around there's a series of Lao women skewered by fencing epees, and as the investigation proceeds Siri and Civilai are hustled off on a jaunt into Khmer Rouge Kampuchea, where Siri's curiosity leads to him spending his 74th birthday chained to a lead pipe in a Cambodian prison, accused of spying for the Vietnamese. 

There's an obvious suspect in the three murders, and as the narration shuffles between downtown Vientiane and the incarcerated investigator, it's increasingly clear things aren't quite as they seem. The three victims had all studied abroad in Eastern bloc countries, and there are a number of odd coincidences that serve to muddy the waters along the way.

But it's the Cambodian element in the story that sets it slightly apart from the rest of the series. Thinking back to when the stories about the killing fields was breaking, there was a sense of unreality that is reflected here as Cotterill leads Dr Siri to some rather uncomfortable realizations in the face of seemingly random unfathomable violence on the part of the Khmer Rouge. 

© Ian Hughes 2012