First Sentence: The neon hammer and sickle buzzed and flickered into life over the night club of the Lan Xang Hotel.
Dr. Siri Paiboun, the 72-year-old coroner for Laos, is being kept busy by both the spirit and human world. An old black mountain bear has escaped its cage but is it responsible for the bodies who've been mauled? The burned bodies of two men have been found. Siri is summoned to the area of his birth in an effort to identify them.
A man working in the Department of archives jumped to his death from a room containing a chest bearing the Royal Seal. Siri, the re-embodiment of the 1050 shaman, Yeh Ming, recognizes the box is inhabited by powerful spirits and he must find the proper way of dealing with it.
It is 107 degrees in Vietiane, Laos where the standard greeting and response has become, 'Hot, isn't it.' 'Damned hot.' Employing excellent dialogue, wonderful humor and a unique voice, Cotterill has given me one of my new, favorite series.
In additional to being a very visual writer, he balances information about Laos in 1997, the paranormal, wonderful mystery and suspense; logic and humor.
His characters are delightful. I particularly appreciate that we learn more about the characters with this book. Siri reflects that 'Poverty lead him to religion, religion to education, education to lust, lust to communism. And communism had brought him back full circle to poverty. There was a Ph.D. dissertation waiting to be written about such a cycle.' He is a very spry 72, who is trying to deal with his inner shaman and finds out more about his childhood. He is smart, logical and very loyal to his friends. He, and we, also finds out more about Nurse Dtui.Read more ›
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Second book in a delightful seriesAug. 1 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
"Thirty-Three Teeth" continues the saga of Dr. Siri Paiboun who, well into his seventies, is more or less drafted to serve as the coroner of Laos. The first in the series, "The Coroner's Lunch," was, for me, the nicest surprise I had all last year (from a book, that is), and the new one is, if anything, even better.
What makes these books so wonderful? Well, practically everything. The characters are fresh, the writing is sharp and, in this age of bloat, kept refreshingly short. The setting is completely unexplored up until now, and in Cotterill's vision it's a comic-opera banana dictatorship run by incompetents whose only real motivation is to dig a protective moat around their own rear ends, a place where truth comes in a distant second to doctrine and expedience.
But what I like best is the way Cotterill interweaves into his mysteries the internal world of the Laotians, rich in both spirit and spirits. Dr. Siri -- not entirely to his pleasure -- has gained entry into the world of the dead, and his dreams are full of the people whose deaths he somewhat reluctantly investigates. This additional layer is never intrusive and never overdone. It gives us insight into a worldview that is very different that that of the West, one that is in some ways richer and more beautiful.
It wouldn't be fair to write even a few paragraphs about this book without saying that Cotterill is also very funny. From my perspective, this is the most delightful new series in several years. I ordered the new one, "Disco for the Departed," months before it came out, and it's currently sitting on my To Be Read shelf -- I keep putting it off because once I start it I'll read it in one sitting, and then it'll be over.
Give Colin Cotterill a try. I've bought several copies of the first two books to give away, but since I probably don't know you, you'll have to pay for your own.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
More than just a sequelMarch 9 2006
D. A Shogren
- Published on Amazon.com
Dr Siri will live on in my mind as a great gumshoe (or sandal) detective and also as being quite representative of the wonderful humor and intellect of the Lao people. My Lao wife (only 6 months in the US from Vientiane) also read the book, laughed throughout and confirmed the geography and characters. Even if you have little interest in the country or people, this is a great detective novel. If you are interested in Lao, you will find a wealth of rich detail. Colin...write some more!
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Dr.Siri's first encore: the Inthanet connection (wireless)July 16 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
Dr.Siri is beginning to enjoy the job as national chief coroner of Laos and protests a little less about his desire to retire. He is a man with a backbone: Siri fights for his able assistant with the Down Syndrome, like Gil Grissom also might want to in Las Vegas, but he wouldn't stand a chance there, American lawyers would shred the evidence obtained by a 'handicapped' lab assistant. Just to show that progress is not always or entirely a good thing. We learn a little more about Siri's biography, how he moved from poverty (orphaned, raised by an aunt) to religion (aunt passed him on to a monastery where he learned) to education (French charity gets him a proper medical training in France)to lust (meets this nurse and follows her) to communism (they join Ho Chi Minh's movement) to poverty (life in the jungles, then in the Socialist Republic of Laos, after an unexpected victory). The circle of life, at least this one's. Siri's three cases this time: crashed helicopter pilots who had tried to rescue the deposed king's family; clearing a bear and accusing a tiger of serial murders; pacifying rebellious royal puppets with the help of Inthanet, a puppeteer. Always in and out of the supranatural, frankly a bit too much for my taste. Another near-destroyer of stars: for me as a practicing amateur of Orwellogy, Cotterill's anachronism with Animal Farm is hard to forgive. Siri reads Animal Farm in a French translation while in the monastery school (i.e. around 1920), later learns in France that the book is anti-communist. Come on, Mr.Cotterill. By the time Animal Farm could have been read by Siri, he was already fighting with the Vietminh. But then, the book is so likeable, I decide to forgive. Just have a look at the chapter where the party chief of Luang Prabang tries to set an ultimatum to the local spirits, using the local shamans as mediators and translators: move away, or play for us, or we will have you exiled! Great satire in a nice little witches' ball. Or the trial against Siri for treason, after he chops down the pole with the loudspeaker for government announcements. That makes up for an overdose of ghosts. As Dr.Siri writes in his resume to his boss, the judge: he often weeps at the great honor bestowed upon him.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
We Have Spirit, Yes We Do, We Have Spirit, How About You?Nov. 27 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
This second book in the Dr. Siri series continues the adventures of 72-year-old state coroner of the newly liberated People's Democratic Republic of Laos, circa 1976. Readers who haven't read the first book ("The Coroner's Lunch") should definitely stop and go back, as it provides a great deal of background and depth for the characters, including explaining just how Dr. Siri has become the carrier of the spirit of a millennia-old Hmong shaman. The setting finds the Pathet Lao government shakily trying to consolidate its power by banning longtime cultural holidays such as Songkran (New Year) and the Rocket Festival, inviting in plenty of Soviet and other Communist advisors (there's a kind of silly cameo by Kim Jong Il), and arranging for the exile of the deposed royal family.
Against this backdrop, three major plotlines emerge. First, someone or something caused a government worker to toss himself off the seventh story of a building. Second, an unknown creature or person is killing women in Vientiane, leaving behind ravaged corpses that look like the victims of grizzly bear attacks. Finally, a pair of charred corpses await Dr. Siri's inspection in the former royal city of Luang Prabang. The first book in the series subverted genre convention by weaving in the supernatural. In it, the spirit world was shown to be a healthy and thriving force with direct influence in the physical realm. Here, that aspect takes over the plotlines to a much greater degree. Both the mystery of the suicide and the mystery of the mauled corpses are directly linked to the spirit world, and Dr. Siri's trip to Luang Prabang is also heavily tinged with supernatural elements. Readers who like their crime books realistic will find this one much too far-fetched to enjoy, as Siri spends more time collecting clues from enigmatic spirits than anything else.
Besides the overemphasis on the supernatural, the book just doesn't measure up to the first in a number of other ways. The local color is almost completely lacking, and the dialogue and interactions between characters are far less engaging. In fact, without the background on them from the previous book, they would be far too sparsely drawn. The sole exception to this is Nurse Dtui, who is given a substantial role to play, and has hidden depths revealed. Owing to events of the first book, Dr. Siri himself is somewhat different as well, a little more happy-go-lucky and unburdened, much more of an impish figure. This is all well and good, but it robs him of some of the weight that made him so compelling a figure the first time around. This was a letdown after the series' strong start, hopefully the next book will ease off on the supernatural aspect and give Dr. Siri some a really juicy plot to explore.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Grim, exotic Laos and its laid-back coroner offer unique appealSept. 5 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
Dr. Siri Paiboun, the septuagenarian medical examiner for newly communist 1977 Laos, makes up for a lack of equipment, supplies, money and government support, with a surfeit of wily ingenuity, unflappable humor, strength of will and spiritual insight - literally.
The year before (in "The Coroner's Lunch," Cotterill's debut) Siri had learned he was the incarnation of the spirit of a powerful 1,000-year-old Hmong shaman. If this sounds like more than you want to swallow with your murder and mayhem, wait. In Cotterill's deft hands, Siri's spirituality is a natural outgrowth of his dogged toughness and hard-earned wisdom. His heightened perceptions and cryptic ghostly visitors become fine tools in deft hands. And the ubiquitous spirits add an exotic dimension to the steamy, colorful Laotian atmosphere.
Siri's second outing begins with two dead men who have nothing in common except that their bodies were found tangled together on a bicycle. One is a threadbare old man, the other a well-dressed functionary. With Holmesian deduction Siri quickly determines the manner and means of death, although discovering motive and murderer will involve a side trip to the capital city, Luang Prabang, where two charred bodies, a life-threatening spiritual crisis and a poignant journey into his own past and the remnants of the royal family await.
Meanwhile, back at home in Vientiane, his loyal, quietly ambitious nurse, Dtui, is left to stop a series of grisly murders of women by what appears to be a wild beast. The only such beast known to be at large is an old, long-abused bear, recently escaped from its cage, but Dtui doubts the worn-out animal could be capable of such savagery.
Her investigation takes her from the Russian compound, where circus acts practice alongside "top-secret" weapons work, to an island prison and a search for a "weretiger," which she has some trouble believing exists.
Before it's all over the government will issue an ultimatum to the spirits of Laos to hilarious effect - "If the spirits wish to be part of the new democratic republican network, they have to toe the line. This is a State directive." Siri will find himself dead and then arrested, Dtui will find herself in mortal peril, and the spirits will assist when it suits them.
Well-written, energetic and carefully, if whimsically plotted, Cotterill's unusual, intricate, series should appeal to all who like their mysteries literate, witty and exotic.