Book Review: I Shot the Buddha by Colin Cotterill—and a Giveaway!

i-shot-the-buddhaI Shot the Buddha
A Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery Set in Laos #11
Colin Cotterill
Soho Crime, August 2016
ISBN 978-1-61695-722-3
Hardcover

It’s 1979 in Laos. Retired coroner Siri Paiboun and his wife, Madame Daeng, have settled into a life running her noodle shop and living in the apartment above. Having no skill at making noodles, Siri is happy to involve himself in problems of the local citizens. They also have a small house that they’ve opened to an assortment of people in need of shelter and advice. One of these residents is Noo, a Buddhist monk, who bicycles off one day and doesn’t return. The only clue to his disappearance is a note in the refrigerator—a plea to help a fellow monk escape across the Mekhong River to Thailand.

It’s the fifth year of socialist rule in Laos. The farmers and villagers trust in the spirits of animism to help with their lives—they can’t count on the communist officials. So when three women are murdered in three different locations—one by sledgehammer, one by knife, and one by poison—the frightened peasants turn to Siri and his wife to investigate.

Siri and his wife embrace the spirits—Siri vanishes from time to time, and his wife has grown a tail, but perhaps they are growing old and these are flights of their imaginations. Siri soon runs afoul of Lao secret service officers and famous spiritualists.

Cotterill has a delightful way of playing with language, and breathing life into even minor characters. One he described in this way: “He walked as if he expected a wild boar to run between his legs.” This is the eleventh book in the series—readers who enjoy an exotic setting with entertaining characters and clever plotting will want to meet Siri Paibourn and Madame Daeng.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, November 2016.

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The last giveaway of 2016!

To enter the drawing for a gently
used advance reading copy of
I Shot the Buddha by
Colin Cotterill,
just leave a comment below. The winning

name will be drawn on Saturday night,
December 31st. This drawing
is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Reviews: The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd, and Masaryk Station by David Downing

The HeistThe Heist
Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Bantam, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-345-54304-23
Hardcover

I found this novel to be superficial.  The press release accompanying it says, among other things, that it is filled with “popcorn thrills.” I find it doubtful that it would make a good movie or television episode.  Why it took two talented, best-selling authors to write it leads one to scratch his/her head in wonder.

It would appear that FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare was created hopefully as another heroine like the popular Stephanie Plum character from another Evanovich series.  Not even close.  She is a shallow personality full of clichés, as is the novel itself.  The plot is simple (no pun intended):  Kate captures a con man, Nick Fox, only to see him released by her superiors to propagate a bigger con to capture a fugitive financier who stole $500,000 and is secreted on an Indonesian island. To make matters worse, Kate is partnered with Nick in an attempt to capture Fox, recover the money and return him to the United States for arrest.  Of course the whole operation, including the kidnapping, is illegal (but then is the FBI or the U.S. government free from such accusations?).

On a positive note, the writing is smooth and the reading is easy.  Enough said.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2013.

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The Walnut TreeThe Walnut Tree
Charles Todd
Morrow Paperbacks, October 2013
ISBN:  978-0-06-223687-6
Trade Paperback

A change of pace for this mother-son author team:  A love story, rather than a mystery.  But still set at the start of World War I, with insights into the British class system and the horrors of war. It is the story of Lady Elspeth Douglas, torn between the attractions of two men, duty, and the iron hand of her guardian stifling her independent nature.

Just before the outbreak of war, Elspeth is in Paris, at the behest of her pregnant friend who is awaiting the birth of her first child. After the baby’s birth and the German invasion, she attempts to return to England.  Along the way she voluntarily becomes involved in the hostilities, bringing water to the troops.  There she meets Captain Peter Gilchrist, setting up an emotional conflict with her fiancé, Alain, to whom she sort of became betrothed the night before he left to join the army.  When she gets back to England, she decides to become a nurse, and serves well in France, until her guardian decides that that is not an activity fit for a lady.

The Walnut Tree is an emotional tale from several points of view. And it is told without embellishment, simply and in a straightforward manner. And the writers couldn’t resist introducing a mystery, even if only in passing.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2013.

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Masaryk StationMasaryk Station
David Downing
Soho Crime, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-616-95223-5
Hardcover

With this, the sixth novel in the John Russell series, David Downing brings to a finale the chronicle covering the years between the World Wars, those following the collapse of Nazi Germany.   It has been quite a journey, with Russell having served as a double agent for both the Soviets and Americans, certainly as dangerous as an existence can be.  Each of the novels reflected the times and the clashes of the ideological differences between the two countries.

In the final book, the story of a divided Germany and Berlin is recounted, ending with the seeds that were sown in the fall of the Soviet Empire.  At the same time, the personal conflicts that beset Russell and others who at first embraced and then questioned socialism are explored and analyzed.

Each entry in the series was well-crafted to not only tell a gripping story of our times, but to call to mind the era as portrayed by real-life characters.  It has been an excellently told saga.  (It is unfortunate that the latest volume suffers from poor production, editing and proofreading, riddled with typographical and grammatical errors.)  Next spring, we are promised a new series by the author moving back in time to World War I.

My parenthetical criticism notwithstanding, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2013.