Laos, 1979: Retired coroner Siri Paiboun and his wife, Madame Daeng, have never been able to turn away a misfit. As a result, they share their small Vientiane house with an assortment of homeless people, mendicants, and oddballs. One of these oddballs is Noo, a Buddhist monk, who rides out on his bicycle one day and never comes back, leaving only a cryptic note in the refrigerator.
Realizing that he needs rescuing, Siri and Daeng sneak illegally across the Mekhong River to Thailand, trying to track their missing monk-friend down and figure out who has kidnapped him. Their adventure runs them afoul of Lao secret service officers, famous spiritualists, charismatic abbots, and even a man who might be the reincarnation of the Buddha himself. Buddhism is a powerful influence on both morals and politics in Southeast Asia—to get their friend back, Siri and Daeng will have to figure out who is cloaking their terrible misdeeds in religiosity.