The former French colonial territory of Laos has experienced similar twists and turns in its modern history as neighbouring Vietnam and is deeply involved in the regions development in the 20th century. From French colonial influence to communist style regimes, with perhaps less recognition on the global scene, Laos has seen it all and there are many fascinating and obscure tales emerging about the period of conflict, not least of all the “secret war” fought by the Americans there during the Vietnam War.
The Ravens by Christopher Robbins
This non-fiction historical account tells the stories of the American pilots based in during the Vietnam War. Often referred to as a “secret war” as both the US and North Vietnamese denied having troops there, the reality was that these American pilots were fighting a vigorous war from the skies against the thousands of North Vietnamese heading south on the Ho Chi Minh trail. The Ravens were volunteer pilots who wore no uniforms and carried no formal identification, yet flew through heavy ground fire to identify targets and call in strikes, with undeniable heroism and startling good humour.
The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le Carré
This classic Le Carré spy novel takes place partly in Laos where George Smiley, newly installed s chief of the secret intelligence service (aka The Circus), discovers a money laundering operation that points to the involvement of the Soviet Russian spy ring. Written in the 70’s this book draws on the tension and rumours leaking out of the region after the Vietnam War and is evocative of thoughts and opinions concerning the region at the time. A cracking adventure and a great holiday read.
Black Buddha by Richard Waters
This dramatic novel, part family drama and part personal voyage of self-discovery, tells the story of a former boxer, Alain Deschamps, as he tracks the final journey of the father who disappeared 35 years earlier, deep in the Laotian jungle. Although perhaps not the best thriller ever written, Waters draws on the geography and culture of Laos and Vietnam, and travellers will find themselves coming across restaurants and bars mentioned in the book, making it a fun and relevant holiday read.
The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill
This is the first novel about Dr Siri Paiboun, the unwilling and under qualified state coroner or the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Its 1976, the royal family has been deposed, the communists have taken over. 72-year-old Siri - a communist for convenience and a reprobate by nature - has got the coroner's job because he's the only doctor left in Laos after the professional classes fled the country. Faced with official cover-ups and an emerging international crisis, Siri is forced to enlist old friends, tribal shamans, forensic deduction, spiritual acumen and some good old-fashioned detective work before he can discover quite what's going on...
A cracking holiday read, this novel and the others in its series bring life to the period of political and social change in Laos.