6 May 2008


I've been reading Colin Cotterill's THIRTY THREE TEETH for a few days now. This is #2 of Cotterill's Siri Paiboun series. The first was THE CORONER'S LUNCH and my mini-review of that is below.

This novel is set in Vientiane, People's Democratic Republic of Laos, in March 1977. A large Vietnamese delegation is staying at the Lan Xang Hotel. In the back garden of the hotel are some cages, one housing a mal-treated black mountain bear which escapes. The once retired and very reluctant national coroner, 72 year old Dr. Siri Paiboun, lives in a concrete mausoleum of a building in an outer suburb. On Monday morning when he arrives at the morgue for work Siri already has guests: two men found dead on a bicycle in the middle of the street.

Conditions in the morgue are primitive, and not airconditioned. Siri is assisted in his autopsies by the very observant Nurse Dtui and Mr. Geung, a downs syndrome man with an incredible memory. Siri brings to the mix "mystic connections", dreams, intuition, and visitations from the dead. Sometimes Siri has a problem in telling the dreams from reality, particularly after he's had a vodka drinking session with his good friend Comrade Civilai.

No sooner have they solved the puzzle of the dead men on the bicycle, than the rather odd team is presented with the body of old Auntie See, discovered in the bushes near her shanty, mauled to death. Almost simultaneously Siri is told his presence is required at the royal capital of Luang Prabang. He is required to discover where two rather carbonised corpses have come from. Such are the duties of Laos' national coroner.

One of the things I am enjoying about this book is Cotterill's underlying humour. There are also glimpses of forensic pathology far removed from the world of Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs. For those of us whose countries fought in the Vietnam War, this is also a look at the post-war world of Laos.

THE CORONER'S LUNCH, my rating: 4.5
Dr Siri Paiboun, retired septuagenarian doctor, has been called into service as the chief coroner in the new communist regime in Laos in 1975. Working in what is without doubt one of the worst equipped morgues in the world, and aided by only a nurse and a Downs Syndrome assistant, Siri pursues investigations in very unconventional ways. In style this book reminds me in many ways of McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. There is a lot of humour and at the same time glimpses of a very different world to the one I live in.
For another review visit It's Criminal

Colin Cotterill trained as a physical education teacher and, now an Australian citizen, has lived and worked in Israel, Australia, USA, Japan, Thailand and Laos. He presently lives in Chiang Mai. His entertaining website tells you a lot about him, his books, and his Books for Laos project.

Titles to look for in the Dr. Siri series

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