Thu 29 Apr 2010
Reviews by L. J. Roberts
COLIN COTTERILL – The Coroner’s Lunch. Soho Crime, hardcover, December 2004; trade paperback: November 2005.
Genre: Licensed investigator. Series character: Dr. Siri Paiboun, 1st in series. Setting: Laos, 1976.
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.
Rating: Very Good Plus.
The Dr. Siri Paiboun Series –
1. The Coroner’s Lunch (2004)
2. Thirty-Three Teeth (2005)
3. Disco for the Departed (2006)
4. Anarchy and Old Dogs (2007)
5. Curse of the Pogo Stick (2008)
6. The Merry Misogynist (2009)
7. Love Songs from a Shallow Grave (2010)