Cover image for Book Club kit : The coroner's lunch
Book Club kit : The coroner's lunch
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Soho Crime, [2015]
Physical Description:
10 bks. (257, 27 pages) ; 20 cm + 1 discussion guide
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Laos, 1978: Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old medical doctor, has unwillingly been appointed the national coroner of the new socialist Laos. His lab is underfunded, his boss is incompetent, and his support staff is quirky, to say the least. But Siri's sense of humor gets him through his often frustrating days. When the body of the wife of a prominent politician comes through his morgue, Siri has reason to suspect the woman has been murdered. To get to the truth, Siri and his team face government secrets, spying neighbors, victim hauntings, Hmong shamans, botched romances, and other deadly dangers. Somehow, Siri must figure out a way to balance the will of the party and the will of the dead.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. Agent, Richard Curtis. (Dec. 15) Forecast: A blurb from S.J. Rozan compares Cotterill to Alexander McCall Smith, whose fans ought to give a boost. The London-born author lives in Chang Mai, Thailand. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist 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 2004 Booklist

Guardian Review

At the age of 72, Dr Siri Paiboun finds himself appointed coroner of the newly created People's Democratic Republic of Laos. With no specialist skills or inclination for the job, precious little equipment, and a great deal of communist ideology to contend with, life isn't easy. When the wife of a party leader dies in mysterious circumstances and the bodies of tortured Vietnamese soldiers start bobbing to the surface of a nearby lake, Siri knows he is expected to toe the party line and come up with appropriately anodyne conclusions about their deaths. However, reasoning that at his age he has little to lose, he decides to try to uncover the truth. The plot is not particularly strong, but Cotterill's depiction of this exotic, troubled country is fascinating, and his light touch makes Siri, with his humanity and strange dreams, a very appealing character. Caption: article-crimecol02.4 At the age of 72, Dr Siri Paiboun finds himself appointed coroner of the newly created People's Democratic Republic of Laos. With no specialist skills or inclination for the job, precious little equipment, and a great deal of communist ideology to contend with, life isn't easy. - Laura Wilson.

Kirkus Review

When an elderly doctor takes over as state coroner of newly Communist Laos, he unexpectedly stirs the bureaucratic pot and gets a new lease on life. Shortly after the monarchy of Laos falls in late 1975, the Party takes over, and most of the intelligentsia flee the country. Apolitical Dr. Siri Paiboun, 73, expects to retire. The widowed Siri was educated in Paris, where he met his wife, Boua, an ardent Communist who insisted on the couple's return to Laos. Mocking Siri's fantasies of leisure, magistrate Haeng appoints him the new state coroner. But Siri turns the tables by taking the job seriously and emboldening his staff of previously persecuted misfits to do the same. He unravels three complicated and intertwined murder plots his superiors want to sweep under the carpet. First, Mrs. Nitnoy, the wife of esteemed Comrade Kham, abruptly keels over her lunch in a crowded restaurant and dies. The apparently unconcerned Kham's elaborate tale of his wife's lifelong fondness for raw pork makes Siri suspicious. Then a trio of young Vietnamese men--Tran, Tran, and Hok--found in a jungle interests Siri because of signs of torture. Finally, the slashing of a young woman's wrist seems too staged a suicide. A succession of vivid, wacky dreams helps Siri organize his thoughts and further enlivens his waking life. This series kickoff is an embarrassment of riches: Holmesian sleuthing, political satire, and droll comic study of a prickly late bloomer. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

A year or so after the takeover of Laos by the Marxist-Leninist Pathet Lao in 1975, French-educated Dr. Siri Paiboun is appointed state coroner. At first under the thumb of an inept Vientiane judge, the 72-year-old Siri performs autopsies on two suspiciously dead bodies in a morgue with woefully inadequate laboratory supplies; but then his curiosity leads to personal investigations--especially when higher-ups whisk bodies away and steal autopsy reports. Then the bodies of at least two Vietnamese are found in the reservoir, and Siri's true skill emerges. This promising series start features an engaging protagonist, frequent wry humor, and a stark, alien locale. For most collections. Cotterill lives in Chaing Mai, in northern Thailand. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.



People's Democratic Republic of Laos, October 1976   Tran, Tran, and Hok broke through the heavy end-of-wet-season clouds. The warm night air rushed against their reluctant smiles and yanked their hair vertical. They fell in a neat formation, like sleet. There was no time for elegant floating or fancy aerobatics; they just followed the rusty bombshells that were tied to their feet with pink nylon string.      Tran the elder led the charge. He was the heaviest of the three. By the time he reached the surface of Nam Ngum reservoir, he was already ahead by two seconds. If this had been the Olympics, he would have scored a 9.98 or thereabouts. There was barely a splash. Tran the younger and Hok-the-twice-dead pierced the water without so much as a pulse-beat between them.      A quarter of a ton of unarmed ordnance dragged all three men quickly to the smooth muddy bottom of the lake and anchored them there. For two weeks, Tran, Tran, and Hok swayed gently back and forth in the current and entertained the fish and algae that fed on them like diners at a slow-moving noodle stall.       Vientiane, Two Weeks Later   It was a depressing audience, and there were going to be a lot more like it. Now that Haeng, the spotty-faced magistrate, was back, Siri would have to explain himself every damn Friday, and kowtow to a man young enough to be his grandson.      In the jargon of the Marxist-Leninists, the sessions were known as "burden-sharing tutorials." But after the first hour in front of Judge Haeng's warped plywood desk, Dr. Siri's burden had become more weighty. The judge, fresh off the production line, had taken great delight in casting un-expert doubts on Siri's reports and correcting his spelling.       "And what do you put the loss of blood down to?" Judge Haeng asked.      Siri wondered more than once whether he was deliberately being asked trick questions to establish the state of his mind. "Well." He considered it for a moment. "The body's inability to keep it in?" The little judge h'mmed and looked back down at the report. He wasn't even bright enough for sarcasm. "Of course, the fact that the poor man's legs had been cut off above the knees might have had something to do with it. It's all there in the report."       "You may believe it's all here in the report, Comrade Siri, but you seem to be very selective as to what information you share with your readers. I'd like to see much more detail in the future, if you don't mind. And to be honest, I don't see how you can be so sure it was the loss of blood that killed him, rather than, say . . ."       "Heart failure?"       "Exactly. It would have been a terrible shock when his legs were severed. How do you know he didn't have a heart attack? He wasn't a young man."      With each of the previous three cases they'd debated, Haeng had somehow twisted the facts around to the possibility of a natural death, but this was his most creative suggestion. It struck Siri that the judge would be delighted if all the case reports that came through his office were headed "cardiac arrest."      True, the fisherman's heart had stopped beating, but it was the signal announcing his death rather than the cause of it. The newly armor-plated military launch had crashed into the concrete dock at Tar Deua. With all the extra weight, it lay low in the water. Fortunately for the crew, the collision was cushioned by the longboat man standing in his little wooden craft against the wall, with no way to escape. Like a surprising number of fishermen on the Mekhong, he'd never learned to swim.      The overlapping metal deck sliced him apart like a scythe cutting through rice stalks, and the railing pinned him upright where he had been standing. The embarrassed captain and his crew pulled him--his torso--up onto the deck, where he lay in numb confusion, chattering and laughing as if he didn't know he was missing a couple of limbs.      The boat reversed and people on the bank watched the legs topple into the water and sink. They likely swelled up in a few hours and returned to the surface. They had worn odd flip-flops, so the chances of them being reunited in time for the funeral were poor. "If you intend to cite a heart attack for every cause of death, I don't really see why we need a coroner at all, Comrade." Siri had reached his limit, and it was a limit that floated in a vast distant atmosphere. After seventy-two years, he'd seen so many hardships that he'd reached the calmness of an astronaut bobbing about in space. Although he wasn't much better at Buddhism than he was at communism, he seemed able to meditate himself away from anger. Nobody could recall him losing his temper.      Dr. Siri Paiboun was often described as a short-arsed man. He had a peculiar build, like a lightweight wrestler with a stoop. When he walked, it was as if his bottom half was doing its best to keep up with his top half. His hair, clipped short, was a dazzling white. Where a lot of Lao men had awakened late in life to find, by some miracle of the Lord above, their hair returned to its youthful blackness, Siri had more sensible uses for his allowance than Yu Dum Chinese dye. There was nothing fake or added or subtracted about him. He was all himself.      He'd never had much success with whiskers, unless you counted eyebrows as whiskers. Siri's had become so overgrown, it took strangers a while to make out his peculiar eyes. Even those who'd traveled ten times around the world had never seen such eyes. They were the bright green of well-lighted snooker-table felt, and they never failed to amuse him when they stared back from his mirror. He didn't know much about his real parents, but there had been no rumors of aliens in his blood. How he'd ended up with eyes like these, he couldn't explain to anyone.      Forty minutes into the "shared burden tutorial," Judge Haeng still hadn't been able to look into those eyes. He'd watched his pencil wagging. He'd looked at the button dangling from the cuff of the doctor's white shirt. He'd stared up through the broken louver window as if the red star were sparkling in the evening sky outside the walls of the Department of Justice. But he hadn't once looked into Siri's brilliant green eyes.       "Of course, Comrade Siri, we have to have a coroner because, as you well know, any organized socialist system must be accountable to its brothers and sisters. Revolutionary consciousness is maintained beneath the brilliance of the beam from the socialist lighthouse. But the people have a right to see the lighthouse keeper's clean underwear drying on the rocks."      Hell, the boy was good at that: he was a master at coming up with exactly the wrong motto for the right situation. Everyone went home and analyzed their mottoes, and realized too late that they had no bearing on . . . anything. Siri stared at the sun-starved boy and felt kind of sorry for him.      His only claim to respect was a Soviet law degree on paper so thin, you could see the wall where it hung through it. He'd been trained, rapidly, to fill one of the many gaps left by the fleeing upper classes. He'd studied in a language he didn't really understand and been handed a degree he didn't really deserve. The Soviets added his name to the roster of Asian communists successfully educated by the great and gloriously enlightened socialist Motherland.      Siri believed a judge should be someone who acquired wisdom layer by layer over a long life, like tree rings of knowledge, believed you couldn't just walk into the position by guessing the right answers to multiple choice tests in Russian.       "Can I go?" Siri stood and walked toward the door without waiting for permission.      Haeng looked at him like he was lower than dirt. "I think we'll need to discuss attitude at our next tutorial. Don't you?"      Siri smiled and resisted making a comment.       "And, Doctor," the coroner stood with his nose to the door, "why do you suppose the Democratic Republic issues quality black shoes to its government officials free of charge?"      Siri looked down at his ragged brown sandals. "To keep Chinese factories open?"      Judge Haeng lowered his head and moved it from side to side in slow motion. It was a gesture he'd learned from older men, and it didn't quite suit him.       "We have left the jungle, Comrade. We have escaped from the caves. We now command respect from the masses, and our attire reflects our standing in the new society. Civilized people wear shoes. Our comrades expect it of us. Do you understand what I'm telling you?" He was speaking slowly now, like a nurse to a senile patient.      Siri turned back to him with no sign that he'd been humiliated. "I believe I do, Comrade. But 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."      He yanked open the sticky door and left. Excerpted from The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.