Colin Cotterill’s eighth mystery starring Dr. Siri Paiboun, Slash and Burn, is billed as the last starring the acerbic Laotian national coroner.
Why end the series?
Why on earth would I end the series. I confess that confusion may have originated from me saying that the series might end. But that was just to see whether anyone was paying attention. I guess they were.
Why does crime fiction appeal to you?
It doesn’t, particularly. When I started the series I had no idea I was a crime writer. I thought I was just telling ripping yarns. Then, to my surprise, I won a Crime Writer’s Association Dagger, so I’ve decided to keep my mouth shut and just write.
How did you come to create Dr. Siri?
I’d worked with Lao refugees in Australia and alongside good old socialists in Laos, and I had a wicker basketful of stories and experiences. I began my search for a lead character in Thailand. One of the country’s major celebrities is a forensic pathologist called Dr. Pornthip. She has punk hair and piercings and has written some 30 gory books on her subject. I wondered what type of personality a Lao coroner would need to achieve the same reputation. And I came up with Siri.
What about Siri is uniquely Laotian?
I needed a character who was Lao, yet tainted by the West. As many Lao have done, Siri spent a great chunk of his life studying in Paris. He returned to his country with a pretty Lao nurse, a lot of Western ideas, and membership in the Communist Party. From then on, most of his life was spent fighting the French, the Americans, and the Lao royalists. By the time the wars were over, he was in his 70s and expecting to retire. But the old generals had something else lined up for him. He retains his Lao sense of humor, his staunch defense of Lao tradition, and his conviction that communism, in the hands of human beings, cannot possibly work. And as an elder statesman, he gets away with voicing such opinions.
What stays with you the most from your work with refugees?
It has given a name and face to an anonymous group. It’s easy to lump all refugees under the same banner. In the camps I met teachers and architects and medical professionals who, for geographical or ideological reasons, were forced from their country. I met children who were born and grew up in camps and believed rice grew on the backs of trucks. I saw four generations of lost opportunities. This might be the reason my books are so character-driven.