First Sentence: Tran, Tran, and Hok broke through the heavy end-of-west-season clouds.
It is 1976 and one year after the Communist takeover of Laos. Dr. Siri Paiboun is 72-years old, a widower and ready to retire. Instead, he is appointed state coroner; in fact, he's the only coroner in Laos and has three cases to deal with; the death of an important official's wife, the discovery of bodies that could lead to an international incident between Laos and Vietnam, and uncovering the reason why the commanders of an Army base, located in northern Laos, keep dying.
How have I missed Cotterill until now? Let me start with history. I am of the Vietnam era; I had friends who fought, and died, there. Once the war was over, I had very little interest in that area of the world.
Now I find it fascinating to see how Communism controlled every aspect of individual's lives. What I particularly like is that Cotterill doesn't present it in a heavy-handed manner, but through the character's perspective of that being the way life is. In some ways, I find that more effective.
The characters are wonderful. Dr. Siri, who performs his first autopsy with the help of a very old French book, his assistants, Dtui who reads Thai fan magazines, and Geung who has mild Down's Syndrome, plus his friends are all delightfully portrayed with affection and, often, humor. But it is Siri who takes the lead and is our connection to the metaphysical world.
With his white hair, uncontrolled eyebrows and shocking green eyes, Siri stands out on his own, but he can also see the dead and communicate with spirits. Rather than making the book unbelievable, it adds dimension and an element of suspense to the story in a way that is hard to quantify.
There is a wonderful sense of place to the story, but different from the usual. It is very much tied in with the way people live, rather than descriptions of the location in which the story is set.
I am so pleased to have found this author and have already ordered the rest of this series.
THE CORONER'S LUNCH (Lic. Inv-Dr. Siri Paiboun-Laos-Cont/1976) ' VG+
Cotterill, Colin ' 1st in series
Soho Crime, ©2004, US Paperback ' ISBN: 1569474184
If I am ever murdered and I get to choose the pathologist to perform my autopsy, I want it to be Dr. Siri Paiboun, the main character in The Coroner's Lunch.
Author Colin Cotterill has created a good man living in difficult times. The year is 1975 and Laos is now communist run. Paiboun, even though he is 72 and looking forward to retirement, is appointed as National Coroner. He has no budget, limited supplies and must report to an in-experienced judge who wants all results to follow the needs of the party. In his favour, Nurse Dtui is an eager assistant and Mr. Geung, while living with Downs Syndrome, functions as far more than an orderly.
Early in his tenure as coroner, the results of several autopsies don't add up to the neat and tidy results the court wants. Siri realises he has to dig deeper even if it gets him into trouble. The spirits of the dead have come to him and pressed him to find the truth. He can't deny them.
I liked Dr. Siri right from the opening pages. He exemplifies many of the characteristics that I believe in. Truth, doing a job to the best of your abilities, making the best of a difficult situation are just a few. Perhaps it is his curiosity and questioning nature that make him so real.
The story also has a set of characters that I want to meet again. The nurse and orderly assigned to the morgue add greatly to the story. At first they seem unlikely aides, but as we get to know them, their dedication to Siri and the job become obvious. Police Officer Phosy is Siri's police liaison. He's a bit of a mystery, but seems to be united with Siri in finding the truth.
I learned quite a bit about the geography and culture of Laos. It's a country I have no experience with and felt that Mr. Cotterill did a great job of bringing it to life for me. I am looking forward to reading more about Dr. Siri and his investigations.
I listened to the audio book from Oakhill Publishing. Read by Gareth Armstrong. 8 hours 8 mins .