Disco for the Departed is the the third of Colin Cotterill’s jolly detective romps centering around the septugenarian Dr Siri Paiboun, Chief Pathologist (actually, the only pathologist) in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. All the usual features of Cotterill’s novels are there: the unswerving sympathy with Paiboun and his political ideals alongside the satire of the communist regime; the unquestioning loyalty of his team and their faith in his wisdom; the co-existence of the rational material world with the supernatural and spiritual world (which I know some people find irritating, but I rather like personally – it simply moves the narrative along, rather than providing Paiboun with the answers to the mystery, which he still has to solve through the application of rational thought); the cast of eccentric, lovable and ridiculous characters. Set in the 1970s, but written in the twenty-first century, there is something charmingly old-fashioned about Cotterill’s writing. The primitive forensic science facilities in Lao, prevent Cotterill having to go in to too much detail concerning forensic procedures, so there’s not much to turn the stomach. These are stories that belong more in the gentle, sunny world of Andrea Camilleri than in the bleak, desparate and violent world of, say, Karin Fossum or Jo Nesbo (who I’m reading at the moment), or in the psychologically harrowing world of Natsuo Kirino. I like them for all that and, although Disco for the Departed has an even greater role than normal for the spirit world in which Paiboun spends half his life, I would still recommend it as a murder novel that lifts the spirits!
I should perhaps add that this was my fifty-second novel of the year – reaching my annual target with almost two months left to run!