The Coroner's Lunch, by Colin Cotterill. Published 2005 by Soho Crime. Fiction. Crime Fiction.
So if you've been reading my "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" posts for the past couple of weeks, you already know how I feel about The Coroner's Lunch, Colin Cotterill's first entry into the Dr. Siri Paiboun series of crime novels set in 1970s Laos. If not, well, let's just say I loved it.
Dr. Siri, as he's called, is a septuagenarian doctor who had hoped he'd be allowed to retire, but Communist officials in Vientiane, the capital, have decided to keep him on as a coroner, a job that he has never trained to do. Using whatever resources he has at hand, along with two misfit assistants and a local cop on the side of the angels, Dr. Siri recognizes pretty quickly that he can do more than just determine the cause of death. He is, he realizes, in a great position to solve crimes. And, as a coroner, he doesn't have to go looking for victims; they're delivered to his doorstep every day.
As Dr. Siri settles into his new role, he's presented with several strange deaths. First up is the sudden death of an older married woman whose husband insists food poisoning is at fault. Dr. Siri is not convinced though. Unraveling this one will involve taking down someone close to him and exposing local corruption. But the centerpiece mystery of this book is the strange death of three Vietnamese men who are found in a river, two tied with flimsy rope and one weighted down. This mystery gets to the heart of the difficult relations between Laos and Vietnam, and will find Dr. Siri alternately threatened and revered as the reincarnation of an ancient spirit. Lao spiritualism and mythology, and the battle in Siri's heart between tradition and modern scientific thought all come into play.
And then there's Dr. Siri himself, curmudgeonly and tough and funny. What made the book for me was his character and his ongoing battle with just about everything around him. I loved the combination of politics and tradition, modern and mythic, and the black comedy that rises between the interplay of traditional Lao culture and the straight laced Communists running the country. The character of Dr. Siri brings all these elements together in a perfectly delightful package. I highly recommend The Coroner's Lunch to mystery and crime readers who don't mind a little mysticism thrown in alongside the bodies, and I will certainly revisit his world!
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.