Cotterill, Colin - 'The Coroner's Lunch'
In 1976, and in the middle of Laos' new communist regime's teething problems, septuagenarian surgeon Dr Siri Paiboun finds himself dragged back to work. This time as the chief coroner, a post he has absolutely no training for and little or no equipment, staff, forensic support or resources of any kind.
When the wife of a Party leader dies suddenly and the bodies of three Vietnamese soldiers are discovered, seemingly tortured and thrown into a local reservoir, Siri uses a very strange combination of autopsy results and assistance from his friends (living and dead) to investigate.
Siri is the most engaging character. A communist for love (his now deceased wife convinced him that they should support the Revolution), a charming old reprobate by nature, he uses a combination of medical knowledge, instinct, charm and good old fashioned finagling to find the truth. Even the scenes where Siri is ably assisted by the spirit world seem to just fit in with the world that he inhabits.
The author has a wonderful sense of farce and he has created the character of Siri with a touch of the mystic and a healthy dollop of the human. The supporting cast members are well drawn and there is a real sense of community with these characters. The dialogue is funny, the interaction between Siri and his workmates and friends, is open, irreverent in some places, and lovingly real.
Despite the woo woo element, which can turn off some readers, this is a wonderful, original, unusual book filled with people that you just want to spend more time with. Thanks must go to Text Publishing for publishing this book in Australia, and hopefully they will continue with the next: THIRTY-THREE TEETH.
NB. A US edition of THE CORONER'S LUNCH is available from Soho Press, both in hardcover and paperback.
Read another review of THE CORONER'S LUNCH.
Karen Chisholm, Australia