In poverty-stricken 1978 Laos, a man with a truck from the city was "somebody," a catch for even the prettiest village virgin. The corpse of one of these bucolic beauties turns up in Dr. Siri's morgue and his curiosity is piqued. The victim was tied to a tree and strangled but she had not, as the doctor had expected, been raped, although her flesh had been torn. And though the victim had clear, pale skin over most of her body, her hands and feet were gnarled, callused, and blistered.
On a trip to the hinterlands, Siri discovers that the beautiful female corpse bound to a tree has already risen to the status of a rural myth. This has happened many times before. He sets out to investigate this unprecedented phenomenon--a serial killer in peaceful Buddhist Laos--only to discover when he has identified the murderer that not only pretty maidens are at risk. Seventy-three-year-old coroners can be victims, too.