Cover image of "The Rat Catchers' Olympics," a novel about Dr. Siri Paiboun at the 1980 Olympics

A book’s title serves three functions: first, to catch a reader’s attention; second, to signal something about the book’s contents; and, third, at least in some cases, to convey a sense of the style or approach the author will take. Colin Cotterill‘s The Rat Catchers’ Olympics admirably accomplishes all three objectives. Thus, as you might guess, this is a comic novel, even though it’s the twelfth in a series of what are marketed as mystery novels. The book is actually, at least in part, about a fictional event at the 1980 Olympics in which rat catchers competed with one another—to catch rats. And, clearly, none of this is to be taken seriously.

Dr. Siri Paiboun, formerly the national coroner of Laos, is now in his seventies and retired. (Apparently, he was the country’s only coroner.) It’s 1980, and Jimmy Carter has just canceled US participation in the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics and persuaded sixty other countries to join the boycott. To help fill the holes in the Olympics roster, the Brezhnev regime has invited small countries that could never compete at the Olympic level to come to Moscow. Laos—formally the Laos Democratic People’s Republic—is among those countries. Laos has no hope of winning any medals. The members of the country’s small team will be happy if they can simply finish their events.

The Rat Catchers’ Olympics (Dr. Siri Paiboun #12), by Colin Cotterill ★★★★☆

Dr. Paiboun’s best friend, former Politburo member Civilai, has been named the head of the Olympic delegation. Dr. Paiboun joins as the team physician, traveling with his formidable wife, a tough former intelligence officer. These three, together with a police officer back in Vientiane, collaborate on an investigation into a murder, a planned assassination, and other assorted misdeeds. It’s a lot of fun, and funny almost all the way. But the author has saved the most fun until close to the end, when three Olympians, all professional rat catchers in their countries, compete to catch the most rats.

The Rat Catchers’ Olympics is the most enjoyable by far of the novels in the series. I found some of the earlier entries to be tedious. They were heavily dominated by references to the supernatural, which I found annoying. Mystical and mysterious things happen in this book, too. But it’s easy enough to shrug them off as just more examples of the book’s humor.

My review of the first book in this series is at A murder mystery set in Communist Laos in the 1970s.

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