Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review of The Curse of the Pogo Stick by Colin Coterill (2008, Soho Press)

Dr Siri, the reluctant national coroner of Laos in the aftermath of communist victory in 1976, has had to travel to a national congress in a remote district. Afterwards he is commanded to journey through the jungle with his cowardly and hectoring boss, Judge Haeng, where they are attacked by a Hmong family. Haeng disappears into the undergrowth where he is ill-equipped to survive, while Siri is kidnapped. The elder of the family wants Yeh Ming, the thousand year old shaman that inhabits Siri’s body, to exorcise a devil from his daughter before they head to the Thai border to escape persecution on ethnic grounds and for siding with the anti-communists. Meanwhile, back in Vientiane, Nurse Dtui is keeping an eye on the mortuary in Siri’s absence. Her first task is to stop a booby-trap corpse blowing up the building and its occupants. Then, along with Madame Daeng, Siri’s financee, she starts to investigate, soon finding herself chasing a deadly woman known as The Lizard.

The Curse of the Pogo Stick is the fifth book in Dr Siri series set in Laos in the 1970s, which I’ve slowly been working my way through in non-sequential order. In this outing, Siri is kidnapped by a Hmong family who want him to draw on his inner shaman to exorcise a devil from a daughter and lift the curse of a pogo stick sourced from the US military. Meanwhile, Nurse Dtui, Inspector Phosy, Madame Daeng and Civilai take on a Royalist terrorist, The Lizard, who is targeting the coroner’s office. Of the six books I’ve read so far, this is weakest. While it has its moments, my sense was the book was a bridge between entries in the series rather than being a full developed story in its own right (which I also said about the previous book in the series). The issue I think is that story consists of two shorter tales, one underdeveloped and the other also slightly under-cooked, that run in parallel. The thread involving Siri’s usual gang of helpers and The Lizard was particularly weak, largely due to a change in telling of the story. In the first hundred pages or so the thread was told in the present, running side-by-side with Siri’s adventure. It then disappeared, re-emerging near the end as a tale told in retrospect once Siri is back with the gang. That gap and the change in storytelling style simply didn’t work for me and the tale felt weak and lacking in intrigue and twists and turns. Siri’s thread while having more substance felt too static once he gets to the Hmong village and the denouement felt curtailed. My sense was that tale needed more movement and tension, which might have been created if the judge had played a more confrontational role and Siri had gone on the journey towards the Thai border with the family for at least part of the way. What saves the book are the characters, which are a delight, and the world that Coterill has created, which is always interesting to visit.


Rick Robinson said...

I've read just the first two, which I liked a lot, but have somehow not gotten back to the series.

ktford said...

Colin Cotterill has been a favoured writer since first happening on his books .. I do very much agree with your review.. I have often recommended Cotterill’s books..