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Tags:Laos, mystery

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The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill (2004)

1970s (26) 2008 (5) 2010 (7) Asia (18) audiobook (10) communism (27) coroner (42) crime (46) crime fiction (32) detective (11) detective fiction (6) Dr. Siri Paiboun (38) ebook (8) fiction (125) forensics (10) ghosts (9) historical fiction (10) humor (15) Kindle (6) Laos (197) murder (9) mysteries (8) mystery (213) novel (13) politics (8) read (15) read in 2012 (8) series (13) Southeast Asia (12) to-read (30)
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Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
I'm in where-have-you-been-all-my-life love with Dr. Siri and this book. Terrificly fun detective novel about an elderly Laotian coroner trying to solve several mysteries at once, crime readers should take a bite out of The Coroner's Lunch. Full review:
http://www.bostonbibliophile.com/2013/06/review-coroners-lunch-by-colin-cotteril... ( )
  bostonbibliophile | Jun 20, 2013 |
Yet another first in the series, this one of Dr. Siri Paiboun, state coroner in Communist Laos in 1976. This was promising, although I must admit that after reading The Headmaster’s Wager, the tongue-in-cheek treatment of the communist state was a little jarring at first.

So here’s the thing about Siri: not only do his dead patients appear to him in dreams, he channels a thousand year old native warrior. If that doesn’t bother you – go for it: you’ll find this a refreshing addition to your other mystery reading. As for me, that’s the end of my reading in this series.

Read this if: you want an exotic locale and don’t mind a spiritistic approach to your mysteries. 3 stars ( )
  ParadisePorch | May 10, 2013 |

This novel is set in Laos in 1976, shortly after the communist group Pathet Lao took political power, abolished the monarchy and established the Lao People's Democratic Republic. The narrative centres on Dr Siri Paiboun, who joined the communists because of his love for a woman rather than because of political conviction, worked with the group during its long insurgency and, at the age of 72 and longing for a quite retirement, is given the job of being Laos’ chief - and only - coroner. Through his work in this role, Dr Siri investigates deaths which aren’t what they seem to be and comes to understand his own disturbing “gift”: Dr Siri sees the spirits of the dead.

In Dr Siri Paiboun, Cotterill has created a memorable character. He is described as one of the “founding fathers of cynicism” and that cynicism, a self-deprecating sense of humour and a lively appreciation of the ridiculous bring much humour to the narrative. The supporting characters are also well-drawn and the setting is both exotic and interesting. Indeed, it would be almost worth reading the novel just for the information Cotterill imparts about the political and social situation in Laos in the mid-1970s. This is done with a very light touch; there is nothing awkward about the way in which the narrative is located in its place and time.

The plot is interesting enough without being compelling, although it’s fair to say that the plot is not the real reason to read the book. The supernatural element – that is, Dr Siri’s ability to see the spirits of the dead – is quite well done. I was not entirely persuaded by it, but given that it has its roots in Lao folk religion it’s not an unreasonable device for Cotterill to use. This was a 3-1/2 star read, rounded up to 4 stars because of my love for the person who gave me the book.

I own an edition of the novel which was published and printed in the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic.* It was given to me about three years ago, a gift from a dear colleague and friend who bought it in Laos, while she was there on holidays. While my friend and I shared a love of crime fiction and often gave or lent each other books, I didn’t get around to reading the novel immediately. Almost a year ago my friend died very suddenly. Since then I’ve seen her gift on my bookshelf and haven’t been able to pick it up for fear that reading it would make me miss her too much. Well, it has made me miss her, but I’m so glad that I have this book, a physical memento of our friendship and our shared love of crime fiction. Vale, Agnes!

*The industry in Laos could do with some quality control. My copy of the book is missing three pages. I initially thought that either I had missed something or that there was a continuity error in the writing. It took me a few minutes to realise that the book went from page 142 to page 145. My ability to understand the plot did not seem to be adversely affected by the missing pages.
( )
  KimMR | Apr 2, 2013 |
This was a fun read, to squeeze in on the weekend between the regular chores and Christmas planning activities. This is the first of a mystery series, set in 1970s Laos, starring an elderly wanna-be-retired-surgeon who is coerced into becoming the only coroner after the revolution. Siri might be extremely reluctant, but he is still a conscientious and honest professional, who does his job too well. This of course, is going to get him into trouble, as he clashes with the bureacrats and the bad guys. He is quite likeable and funny. When his obnoxious boss-judge orders him to start wearing proper shoes instead of sandals, because "Civilized people wear shoes. Our comrades expect it of us.", Siri replies, "...I think if the proletariat are going to kiss my feet, the least I can do is give them a few toes to wrap their lips around."
A bit of a paranormal element was slipped in, which was a bit too much -- I think it could have been left in the arena of dreams/intuition/gut feeling/ rather than being elevated to the significance it was given in the later parts of the book. But overall, it was a fun little jaunt with some snappy funny dialogue, a bit of a mystery, and some likeable characters. ( )
  BCbookjunky | Mar 31, 2013 |
The book opens Laos in 1976. A fledgling Communist regime is in power for the first time and Dr Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old doctor and former warrior, has been appointed the country’s sole Coroner. He has no training for the role, most of the available books on the subject are in a language he doesn’t speak and he has little of the necessary equipment. Despite all this he’s required to investigate an assortment of peculiar deaths, including the wife of a Party Leader and what appear to be tortured Vietnamese soldiers. Helping Dr Siri are nurse (and wannabe trainee Coroner) Dtui, morgue assistant Mr Geung and the spirits of dead people who inhabit Dr Siri's dreams.

The highlight of the book for me was the humour which has the same witty, haphazardly surreal quality as Douglas Adams’ writing. In the past I have lamented the lack of books with this kind of sensibility but I now realise it’s a terribly difficult thing to achieve and am simply grateful whenever I stumble across an example. I don’t re-read books very often but books like this, that offer something wonderful quite independent of their narrative, tend to make it to the shelf of books I re-acquaint myself with from time to time.

The characters are delightful too. Dr Siri is reluctant in his roles as communist and coroner though he performs the latter with increasing diligence. He treats the people he meets with the amount of respect and compassion each deserves and his struggle to cope with the supernatural aspect to his life is handled well (it's a theme normally guaranteed to turn me off). There are a myriad of other players, major and minor, alive and not, good and evil, who are all equally well depicted and credible.

The book also offers a marvellous sense of time and place although I’m so woefully ignorant of this particular part of the world and its history that I’ve no clue if it’s a realistic depiction. For all I know it could be as much a production of Cotterill’s imagination as his protagonist’s corpse-inhabited dreams but, realistic or not, it’s a glimpse into a fascinating world.

For once the prominent blurb on my copy of The Coroner’s Lunch, which likens it to Alexander McCall Smith’s African series, isn't wildly inaccurate. Dr Siri certainly shares characteristics with Mme Ramotswe of Smith’s series although I think the plot of this book is far more intricate and it tackles weightier social issues, albeit with a delicate touch and wry humour. I found myself wanting more of this writing and these people almost before I'd even finished and, happily for me, there are already five more books in the series. What joy I have to look forward to. ( )
  bsquaredinoz | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Colin Cotterillprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abelsen, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Amezawa, YasushiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Diari, MatteoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malfoy, ValérieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mohr, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
With the kindest thanks and lots of love to the following folks: Pornsawan, Bouasawan, Chantavone, Sounieng, Ketkaew, Dr Pongruk, Bounlan, Don, Souk, Soun, Michael and his secretary, Somdee, David L., Nok, Dtee, Siri, Yayoi and Steph.
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Tran, Tran and Hok broke through the heavy end-of-wet-season clouds.
Quotations
Most of the results from Siri’s morgue relied on archaic color tests: combinations of chemicals or litmus samples. These were more suitable for telling what wasn’t, rather than what was.
We, my children, are no longer common coroners. We are investigators of death.
He couldn’t imagine why old men would chase new-hatched chicks when there were pretty hens in the yard.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The Communist Pathet Lao has taken over this former French colony. Most of the educated class has fled, but Dr. Siri Paiboun, a Paris-trained doctor whose late wife had been an ardent Communist, remains. And so this 72-year-old physician is appointed state coroner, despite the fact that he has no training or even supplies to use in performing his new task. What he does have is curiosity and integrity. At his age he is not about to let a bunch of ignorant bureaucrats dictate to him. One of his first cases involves three bodies recovered from a reservoir, but Dr. Siri establishes that the cause of death was not drowning. These men seem to have been electrocuted, perhaps tortured, and they also seem to be Vietnamese, which could have international repercussions. And then there is the inexplicable death of a Party bigwig's equally important wife. She collapsed and died at a banquet. But Dr. Siri doesn't think her death was from natural causes. In the course of his investigations, Dr. Siri must travel to his birthplace, a Hmong village he has not visited for more than 60 years, where he makes a profound discovery, not only about the motive for several murders, but about himself.… (more)

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