Laos, 1976. 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 dead 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.
After months of boredom there is a sudden spate of bodies, one slain more mysteriously than the next. Resisting pressure from the bureaucrats above him and struggling to find evidence before it disappears, Dr Siri begins investigating torture and murder and then finds himself the victim of mysterious attacks.
The first in a series of novels featuring Dr Siri Paiboun, The Coroner's Lunch boasts a charming cast of characters in a lush south-east Asian setting.
This series kickoff is an embarrassment of riches: Holmesian sleuthing, political satire, and a droll comic study of a prickly late bloomer.' Kirkus Reviews
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.