Book Review: The Rat Catchers’ Olympics by Colin Cotterill

The Rat Catchers’ Olympics
A Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery #12
Colin Cotterill

Soho Crime, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-61695-825-1
Hardcover

First of all, I’ve got to admit I’m horribly musophobic, so the mere title of the book put me off. Then there is the cover. A lurid graphic of a black rat caught in a red fist. What the title had going for it was the word “Olympics” considering the opening ceremony to the winter Olympics in South Korea was, as I write this, only a couple days ago.

Okay, so the Olympics referred to in the book are the Moscow Summer Olympics of 1980, but . . .

Anyway, I delved into the book whose cover led me not to expect much. Boy, was I ever wrong. Only a few pages in I was already in love with the characters, a group of very political Laotians. Old folks, for the most part, including the ex-national coroner of Laos, Dr. Siri Paiboun and his wife Madame Daeng. What a couple, both still filled with youthful exuberance.

In a nutshell, Siri has been invited to head up the Laotian contingent of athletics invited to the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow, Russia, and, in between spurring on some national pride, investigate a nebulous plot to blow someone up. He, nor any of the Laotians, whether the support group or the athletes, give a hoot that the only reason they’ve been invited to Russia is because so many of the competitive countries are boycotting the games. None of them expect to win anything. Just participating is honor enough.

In what could’ve turned into either slapstick humor–the story is written with spot-on timing for the many humorous parts–or centered on the sad history of Laos, with its poverty and political upheaval, the plot is a perfect blend of both. Each is treated with respect for the diverse characters, every single one who is capable of surprising you.

A murder mystery? Well, yes, that’s in the plot, too, but sort of faded into the background on the strength of Cotterill’s characters. As for the rat catchers in the title? They do play their parts and amusing as it is, I’m still musophobic. Even a story this good isn’t going to change that.

Rat Catchers’ Olympics has been added to my Best Books read in 2018 list. I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, February 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.