Thrillers go to Prague and Laos

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

Since I began writing this column I have gotten lots of mail (e-mails, mostly) from readers. Your correspondence helps me identify books that generate feedback. Books that fit within the broad category of the mystery/thriller/crime fiction genre often elicit enthusiastic responses. Here are two more:

"Innocence Or, Murder on Steep Street" by Heda Margolius Kovaly (Soho Crime, 235 pages, $25.95)

This novel was a lost classic. The author was born in Prague in 1919. In 1941 the Nazis deported her family to a Jewish ghetto in Poland. In 1944 she and her husband were sent to the death camp at Auschwitz where they got separated. After the war the couple were reunited in Prague and her husband eventually became a high-ranking official in the Czech communist government. In 1952 he was purged and then executed following his Stalinist show trial.

“Innocence Or, Murder on Steep Street” is her fictional rendition of things she survived. The book was not published in her native country until after her death. An English translation was just issued. The story is set during the 1950s in Prague. The protagonist is Helena, a character who was clearly modeled upon the author’s own experiences.

Helena works as an usher at a movie theater. Her husband is in prison. During this period the Soviets were crushing Czech dissent. This novel oozes paranoia. Helena is surrounded by people she cannot trust; informers, opportunists, killers. This psychological thriller feels genuine because the author is depicting a tragedy that really took place. In “Innocence” nobody can claim to be very innocent.

"Six and a Half Deadly Sins: A Doctor Siri Paiboun Mystery Set in Laos" by Colin Cotterill (Soho Crime, 242 pages, $26.95)

If you prefer mysteries containing generous dollops of wit and humor, then Colin Cotterill is worth checking out. Cotterill is a Brit who resides in Thailand. This series featuring Dr. Siri Paiboun, the “twice-retired ex-National Coroner of Laos” can be hilarious despite his sobering former occupation. These books are set during the 1970s in the war-torn southeast Asian nation of Laos.

In this 10th book in the series it is late 1978 and the Vietnamese are about to invade Cambodia. In northern Laos the Chinese are infiltrating the border. Dr. Siri receives a mysterious package containing a handwoven dress. Siri discovers a rather gruesome item has been sewn into the hem. The good doctor is in his 80s, still he realizes that this is his first clue to solving a mystery and nothing will hold him back.

Siri and his wife Daeng embark on a madcap journey into dangerous northern Laos. Each new clue is concealed within a traditional dress. Readers will be unsure that Siri can survive this one. He becomes very ill. The story ends with his funeral. That’s the beauty of this series; we can never be sure what clever ruse is being employed.

Coming in August: Soho Crime is publishing what is being hailed as the first Filipino crime novel. “Smaller and Smaller Circles” by F.H. Batacan is set in the slums of Manila. A serial killer is concealing the bodies of his victims, young boys, in a huge garbage dump. The two men who hope to solve these murders are Catholic priests.

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