The Coroner's Lunch

The Coroner's Lunch

Book - 2004
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The Coroner's Lunch is set in Laos in 1976. The main character is 72-year-old Dr. Siri Paiboun, the country's only government coroner. Siri is a grumpy, outwardly cynical curmudgeon who sees strange things in his dreams. Decades earlier he had joined the Pathet Lao, less out of ideological conviction than because he had fallen in love with a true believer. That wife is now dead, and Siri, having spent much of his career practicing medicine in the jungle, lives alone in a one-room Vientiane apartment and presides over a primitive morgue. There he's assisted by a nurse who buries herself in Thai movie magazines and a young man with Down syndrome. Siri doesn't bother to hide his contempt for party hacks like his boss, Judge Haeng, the "spotty faced magistrate." He would be only too happy if party honchos kicked him out of office and into retirement. When the body of a senior party member's wife arrives at the morgue, Siri only reluctantly surrenders it to the woman's husband, who seems powerfully interested in getting it quickly to the crematorium. The other plot involves three Vietnamese officials whom we meet on the first page of the book as they plunge from a helicopter into a Laotian lake, their feet tied to rusty bombshells. Their deaths are apparently part of a scheme to foment war between Laos and Vietnam. The case is political dynamite.
Publisher: New York : Soho Press, c2004
Branch Call Number: FICTION COT
Characteristics: 257 p. ; 20 cm


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Jun 10, 2019

I'll be honest with you. I started reading this book and felt like it wasn't my kind of book AT ALL. I put it down and read a different book. Then, I picked The Coroner's Lunch back up ... and became completely enchanted! I absolutely love the main cast of characters. I love the dry humor. As I read I was reminded of the Botswanan series of books by Alexander McCall Smith, but I liked the first novel in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series much better. I really enjoyed insights into all of the aspects of this mysterious country and its societies, and all the many disparate threads are bought together in a truly admirable and masterly way at the end. On to the next book!

Feb 20, 2019

I thought very highly of this one. 4 and a half stars.

The Pathet Lao have taken over and Laos is becoming a "great, egalitarian, communist, modern nation." Except, of course, utopia fails to take hold when those implementing are flawed people like ourselves. And in the mid-70s birth of this new world view live ancient peoples with simmering disputes. No wonder then that Dr. Siri, the national coroner, has mysterious and politically dangerous deaths to investigate.

The setting is strongly evocative, the characters mostly sympathetic. A bit more mystical than a Holmes tale (which is, perhaps, justifiable or even necessary to capture the feelings of Hmong & Lao & Viet of that time and place). I found it a fascinating journey with a delightful protagonist in a near past yet - for me - nearly unexplored setting.

For those who like a mystery, this is highly recommended

Jan 01, 2019

Completely intriguing plot, with humor and 1970s Laotian history (Vietnam war era) thrown in. Difficult to put down. Inspired by this book, I've now read 5 others in the same series, but this is still my favorite (although Six and a half Deadly Sins is a close second).

Nov 02, 2018

Young author with good feel for the sad little country of Laos. The great hope is that there are a few good people who "did not swim" to keep the country from becoming another Cambodia ala Pol Pot. The dedicated Coroner seems to be a very interesting and unusual character with science and demons fighting away.

Jul 11, 2017

So glad this was our book club pick. I'm now on the seventh in the Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery books by Colin Cotterill and have enjoyed them all. So much fun! I highly recommend The Coroner's Lunch. Colin provides a vivid glimpse into another time and culture (Laos, Communism, post-Vietnam War) along with likable, interesting characters and lively storytelling. Not always predictable whodunits, either. He makes sure to put in enough twists to keep you guessing and grinning.

Jul 22, 2016

Smart, likable series with good characters, setting and history.

multcolib_susannel Jan 25, 2015

Political intrigue in Southeast Asia
70 year-old forensic Dr.Siri
and his unique assistants
humor and a bit of romance
oh, and of course- murder.

rowanquincy Dec 13, 2014

Very enjoyable read and will look for more books by this author. Liked the humor and the details of life in 70s Laos.

Dec 03, 2014

Highlights of this series include:
- a charming main character and engaging support characters;
- intriguing mysteries without a lot of gore;
- interesting detail on 1970’s Communist Laos.

I’m hooked. The Coroner’s Lunch begins the series.

Helen100 Oct 28, 2014

This is a poignant, humorous, and unique murder mystery set in 1972 communist Laos. The main character is a 72-year-old physician (Dr. Siri) who is forced to become the national coroner when his only desire is to retire. He is given a basic concrete block building in which to work and ‘inherits’ two delightful assistants from the previous coroner. Dr. Siri believes he has lived past his natural life-expectancy so he has no fear of dying. This provides him with the ability to seek out truth and not to give in to bullying or fear-tactics.

This book was nominated for the Barry Award for Best First Novel in 2005. I am surprised it has not won any awards – it is a superb book written by a very talented author. I am looking forward to reading and reviewing the next in the series: Thirty-three Teeth.

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May 24, 2018

"The Coroner's Lunch is marvelous. The setting may be unique in Western fiction, and the characters are unique to themselves. Sweet but not sappy, offbeat but not self-conscious about it, this book doesn't so much pull you in as open a door and let you walk happily through. Fans of Alexander McCall Smith's books will l

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