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The Coroner's Lunch [Paperback]

Colin Cotterill
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Nov. 1 2005 A Dr. Siri Paiboun Mystery (Book 1)
“This series kickoff is an embarrassment of riches: Holmesian sleuthing, political satire, and [a] droll comic study of a prickly late bloomer.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“The sights, smells, and colors of Laos practically jump of the pages of this inspired, often wryly witty first novel.”—Denver Post

“A wonderfully fresh and exotic mystery. . . . If Cotterill . . . had done nothing more than treat us to Siri’s views on the dramatic, even comic crises that mark periods of government upheaval, his debut mystery would still be fascinating. But the multiple cases spread out on Siri’s examining table . . . are not cozy entertainments, but substantial crimes that take us into the thick of political intrigue.”—The New York Times Book Review

“In Siri, Cotterill has created a detective as distinctive as Maigret or Poirot.”—Orlando Sentinel

“The Soho Press crime series . . . has done mystery connoisseurs everywhere a favor by adding Colin Cotterill to its publishing list. The author gives us exotic locations; a world that few of us know well; crisp, intelligent, and often-witty writing; and, most of all, a hero unlike any other.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer

Laos, 1975. The Communist Pathet Lao has taken over this former French colony. Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old Paris-trained doctor, is appointed national coroner. Although he has no training for the job, there is no one else; the rest of the educated class has fled.

He is expected to come up with the answers the party wants. But crafty and charming Dr.Siri is immune to bureaucratic pressure. At his age, he reasons, what can they do to him? And he knows he cannot fail the dead who come into his care without risk of incurring their boundless displeasure. Eternity could be a long time to have the spirits mad at you.

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From Publishers Weekly

Confronted by the poisoning of an important official's wife and the sudden appearance of three bodies that may create an international incident between Laos and Vietnam, 72-year-old state coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun keeps his cool in Cotterill's engaging whodunit, set in Laos a year after the 1975 Communist takeover. Ably assisted by the entertaining Geung and ambitious Dtui, Siri calmly gleans clues from minute examinations of the bodies while circumnavigating bureaucratic red tape to arrive at justice. Only an attempt on his life manages to rattle him—and for good reason. In addition to being comfortable around corpses, Siri actually converses with the dead during his dreams. These scenes come across more as a personification of Siri's natural intuition than as a supernatural element. Less explainable is Siri's journey to a northern Laos army base, where he becomes involved in the witchcraft and spirit world of the local tribespeople. Despite this minor detour into the implausible and a later, jarring change in viewpoint, this debut mystery, with its convincing and highly interesting portrayal of an exotic locale, marks the author as someone to watch.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This first Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery introduces readers to a delightful old man conscripted in 1975 to become the chief medical examiner of Laos after the nation's "only doctor with a background in performing autopsies had crossed the river" into Thailand, "allegedly in a rubber tube." Siri thought he'd settle down with a state pension after helping the Communists force the Laotian royal family from power, but the party won't let him retire until he is a drooling shell. So the spry seventysomething settles into a routine of studying outdated medical texts and scrounging scarce supplies to perform the occasional cursory examination while making witty observations about the bumbling new regime to his oddball assistants. But when the wife of a party leader turns up dead and the bodies of tortured Vietnamese soldiers start bobbing to the surface of a Laotian lake, all eyes turn to Siri. Faced with dueling cover-ups and an emerging international crisis, the doctor enlists old friends, Hmong shamans, forest spirits, dream visits from the dead--and even the occasional bit of medical deduction--to solve the crimes. If Siri lives long enough, he'll make a wry, eccentric addition to the genre. Frank Sennett
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cotterill is a wonderful discovery March 12 2010
By L. J. Roberts TOP 100 REVIEWER
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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  196 reviews
96 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one of the best mystery novels of the year Dec 12 2004
By tregatt - Published on
Colin Cotterill's "The Coroner's Lunch" proved to be a gem of a find and a treat of a read. It's a bit hard to classify this book because while it deals with serious themes of murder and corruption, it is also written in almost light hearted and witty manner, full of irreverent humour, and with a slight mystical overtone. But once you start "The Coroner's Lunch," it is really hard to put this book down: swiftly paced with a few disparate subplots that seem unconnected, "The Coroner's Lunch" was completely unputdownble.

Set in Laos (once part of Indochine) and in 1975, "The Coroner's Lunch" follows the fortunes of Dr. Siri Paiboum, a Paris trained doctor, who joined the communist party and who has been fighting with them in the jungle, for the sake of the love of his life, his wife Boua. When the novel opens, the fight is over, the communists have won and Siri is now a 70-something year old widower, who is entertaining hopes of a well deserved retirement. Of course things don't go according to plan: because of a lack of trained professionals (most seemed to have fled the country), Siri is informed that he is now the state's only coroner even though he knows next to nothing about performing autopsies. Knowing that declining the privilege is not an option, our reluctant coroner soon finds himself fitted up less than properly equipped morgue and the help of one nurse, Dtui (who is fortunately quite intelligent) and an amiable man of all jobs, Geung, who has Down's Syndrome. Together all three seem to shuffle along adequately and happily. That is until the wife of an important official turns up dead at the morgue. The husband claims that his wife probably died of food poisoning (she liked eating raw fish), but something about the lady's death troubles Siri -- the rush to pronounce her death an accidental one, and the claiming of her body before a proper autopsy can be performed, together with Siri's vision of the dead woman's spirit (yes, the doctor sees ghosts), convinces Siri that the lady was murdered. Siri is determined to discover who murdered the lady and why, but before he can get around to investigation further, he's called upon to perform another autopsy (this time one that could have serious international consequences), and then later to investigate a series of bizarre deaths up North. Suddenly it seems to be raining dead bodies -- or could someone be trying to keep Siri from further investigation the death of the important official's wife...

I've been rather lucky lately: nearly every book I've picked up to read, I've found to be well written, clever, witty and a really enjoyable read. In fact I'm beginning to wonder when this string of good luck will wear out! "The Coroner's Lunch" was one of my lucky finds. And I do hope that Kirkus review that claims this book to be the first in a series is right: I'm already counting the months to the next Dr. Siri installment. Simply everything pleased about this book: from the clever, mystical storyline; to the witty and humourous prose style; to the completely engaging and likable protagonist, Dr. Siri Paiboum. Brilliantly building on the suspense by mounting one subplot on top of the other, Colin Cotterill cleverly leads us deeper and deeper into the heart of the novel. So if you're looking for a completely absorbing, engrossing and engaging read, look no further: "The Coroner's Lunch" is it. One of the best reads of the year.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CSI Vientiane, Season 1: The Sixth Sense July 4 2008
By H. Schneider - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
First of all, thanks to V.J.Canberra for recommending this historical/esoteric/ethnic series of crime novels around Dr.Siri.
Meet the hero: the man is 72 and reluctantly (he would rather retire) national chief coroner of the recently turned Republic of Laos under communist Pathet Lao rule. The time is 1976. Dr.Siri is insufficiently qualified as well as equipped and staffed. He makes that up by being the founding father of cynicism. He has odd green eyes. Dogs hate him (until a turnaround point in the plot when they begin to love him). His bosses are weary of his atttitude. Women seem to love him, but he has only recently begun to notice, his wife died 10 years ago. He has been a long time party member, but for the wrong reasons (chercher la femme! though Thai radio propaganda against the new regime claim that all Lao communists are ugly.) On top of all this, Siri is psychic. He sees dead people, "all the time". (saw that movie? it would help)
All Asian countries are heavily infested with ghosts and spirits. Probably the poorer, the more infested. As Siri is otherwise short of resources, he makes best use of his off-curriculum abilities (which actually go against his scientific mindset.)
The novel has three concurrent crime cases, which stretch poor Siri's skills to the limits.
First, a communist top cadre's wife has died under strange circumstances. While this case is the most normal of the three and easily seen through, it provides most of the suspense in this otherwise rather funny book.
Second, three shady Vietnamese turn up killed, which threatens to cause an international confrontation. Siri solves the case and saves peace, which however doesn't fully convince; it may not be fully thought through. Third, in an army project that wants to help minority people to substitute opium by other cash crops, the army commanders have been dying one after the other in strange circumstances. The story leads into realms of spirits that I am not familiar with and that make Siri become an unexpected exorcist's assistant.
I was considering to deduct a star for too much reliance on the other world and for a wobbly second case, but then, as I like the book a lot, I thought, what the heck. Go for it!
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Found: a new old friend Oct. 10 2010
By David J. Baxter - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Really enjoyed this - thanks to the Shelfari community! This was recommended as I completed one of my reviews - just on the basis of other books I'd enjoyed. It's the first of a series (that I am really enjoying discovering!) dealing with the 70-year-old Lao coroner Dr Siri Paiboun, who - despite no training and little enthusiasm initially and paying scant respect to his new political masters (the Communist cadres control Laos) - does his job so well that he is difficult to replace. At 70, but still sprightly, he misses his wife, killed in the jungles by a grenade attack, but suspects she had fallen out of love with him, which makes his isolation worse, in some ways. In "The Coroner's Lunch", Siri suspects the that death of a wife of one of the Party leaders is not as innocent as it appears. Even though the equipment he has to investigate with is primitive, and the opposition to his investigation brutal, he perseveres ...
What makes his job both easier (in a weird sense) and harder is that Siri receives visits form the apirits of those he practises his coronial skills on. These both terrify him, and intesnify his need to find the truth - about himself, as well as the victims.
It's always great to find a new series to me, and I'm looking forward very much to tracking Dr Siri's story - a new old friend!
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing debut... Jan. 20 2006
By Addison Phillips - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The CORONER'S LUNCH is an amazing debut novel, with a lot of promise for future fun (there's a sequel, called THIRTY-THREE TEETH that is darned good), but which delivers in the here-and-now too.

Any summary description of this book will seem a bit hokey. What we have here is more than the sum of its parts. Let's see: we have septugenarian national coroner Suri Paiboun, repentant Communist guerilla rebel, in Laos in the 1970s. He's busy solving several murders in the most Holmesian manner possible while simultaneously wrapped up in a thriller (I won't give any spoilers on that). Oh. And he's also the current incarnation of a thousand year old warrior monk. Sounds... well, tortured or corny. But somehow the writing is permeated by just the right tinge of local flavor and the magic doesn't overcome the realism.

A nice debut. There's some growing room for Cotterill, as you'd expect in a first novel. But still very nice.
27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Had promise, but a little bit disappointing in the end... Aug. 1 2006
By Book Lover - Published on
I was really excited about this book at first. The setting -- Laos of the mid 1970s -- was different, exotic, and interesting. The author focused on the new influence of Communism on the characters, as well as the impact of American, Vietnamese, and Hmong cultures on the Lao people. I liked the protagonist Siri, as well as his motley group of unlikely cohorts at the coroner's office. Cotterill even took the daring step of integrating the supernatural into the storyline. For some, that might be off-putting, but I actually liked this part of the book. The real and surreal were nicely blended. There is definitely a lot to like about the book, and I am not entirely sure why I felt let down by it. I do not think it was the characterization (which was good), it was not the setting (which was excellent), it was not the writing (which was well done), and it was not the pacing (which kept me engaged most of the time). I guess that leaves only one thing: the plot itself was a little unsatisfying. It got too complicated at one point, and then came together too neatly. It just didn't seem as believable as it should have. I think that is my biggest problem with it. It is worth reading, and I would recommend it, perhaps just with some hesitation...
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