The Coroner's Lunch (Dr. Siri Paiboun Series #1)

The Coroner's Lunch (Dr. Siri Paiboun Series #1)

by Colin Cotterill


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616956493
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Series: Dr. Siri Paiboun Series , #1
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 89,313
Product dimensions: 4.90(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Colin Cotterill is the Dilys Award–winning author of nine other books in the Dr. Siri Paiboun series: Thirty-Three Teeth, Disco for the Departed, Anarchy and Old Dogs, Curse of the Pogo Stick, The Merry Misogynist, Love Songs from a Shallow Grave, Slash and Burn, and The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die, and Six and a Half Deadly Sins. He lives in Chumphon, Thailand, with his wife and five deranged dogs.

Read an Excerpt

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 .
Copyright © 2015 Colin Cotterill.
Excerpted by permission of Soho Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Coroner's Lunch (Dr. Siri Paiboun Series #1) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 26 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fascinating characters, good mystery story, interesting writing style with wit & humour that fleshes out the setting and brings it all to life
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr. Siri reminds one of Precious Ramotswe in the way he uses common sense to solve crime. An added dimension is the visits he has from the dead. Told from the Laotion point of view, it gives us an unfavorable glimpse of the role the United States sometimes plays in international affairs. But it makes for a charming beginning of what I hope is a long series.
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Can you call a book delving into murder, evil spirits, the degradations of communism, and political corruption `delightful¿? I¿ll say, ¿yes¿. Because the writing is fresh, the dialogue witty, the characters interesting. The setting, in Laos, felt real. And the story was fascinating and well told. Yes, it was a delightful book.Dr. Siri Paiboun, in his 70¿s, the coroner in 1976 Vientiane, Laos, and his friend Civilai, lunch on the riverside log every day, discussing their work. And Dr. Siri¿s helpers, Mr. Geung, his assistant with Down Syndrome, capably going about his routine tasks, and Dtui, his nurse assistant, are both written with reality and sympathy.Dtui with her laundry-bin build was off the scale. There were no suitors queuing at her door. They wouldn¿t have to dig deep to find her kindness and humor, but they didn¿t even bring a spade.When one of the bodies brought to his office is hurriedly claimed, Siri decides there is a mystery afoot. ¿It¿s starting to look like somebody wants this case closed in a hurry. We, my children, are no longer common coroners. We are investigators of death. Inspector Siri and his faithful lieutenants. All for one and one for all.Though a heavy a subject, Colin Cotterill has such a deft touch, that it was fast and light reading. I¿m looking forward to the rest of the series.
chrystal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Delightful book, loved every minute, the characters the plot, just the right amount of everything.
david.ww1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good story, solid writing. The setting makes it interesting.
tymfos on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an unusual mystery novel. The main character, 72-year-old Dr. Siri Paiboun, is the head coroner in Laos in 1976 -- the only coroner in the country at that time. He had the job thrust upon him after the Communist revolution -- when he wanted to retire. Call him a disillusioned Communist, he was once filled with revolutionary zeal, but now sees that the new system is probably just about as flawed as the old one -- just different flaws.He'd come to believe two conflicting ideas with equal conviction: that communism was the only way man could be truly content; and that man, given his selfish ways, could never practice communism with any success.He's dealing with the bodies of a woman who died suddenly at lunch; a dead man found in a lake; and a hairdresser who may or may not be a suicide, among others. A possible conspiracy is involved with one of the cases and, as a result, someone may be trying to kill him. And, oh, by the way, he sees dead people. Not just the bodies in the morgue, but their spirits. He apparently has a gift that's going to lead to some really strange experiences. (Not that seeing dead people in and of itself isn't strange enough.)This book is interesting in providing a view into a very different time, place, and worldview. The mystery is pretty good, too. I like Dr. Siri, who has been shoved into a job he never wanted in what he thought would be the years of his retirement. I normally like stories with a paranormal element, but this one was challenging in that regard. Like I said, it involves a very different worldview. But Dr. Siri's bewilderment with that aspect of events in the story -- and his attempts to find scientific explanations -- rather put me at ease regarding even the strangest stuff.
RBeffa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I read a brief blurb about this book it caught my attention. A murder mystery set in Laos right after the communist takeover in the 1970's. Now that is something different than the mean streets of an American city or something by Tony Hillerman or Nevada Barr, or the foggy environs of an Anne Perry Victorian novel. What I wasn't expecting to find was a charming protaganist in the form of an almost elderly coroner, Dr. Siri Paiboun and the unique problems he faces.This book really put me in to a different culture of a different time. It begins in the People's Democratic Republic of Laos, October 1976. There are a couple of colorful characters in here besides Dr. Siri. In reading I also learned some history of Laos and neighbors Thailand and Vietnam. The "mystery" element of this story isn't what caught or kept my interest, but rather the quirky yet endearing cast of characters. I read this novel because of them. There may be a bit too much "mysticism" in here for traditional mystery readers, as right off the bat we are introduced to the idea of dream world visitors to Siri, but for something different this was a real treat. Just bear in mind that part of the mystery solving involves the dead communicating with Dr. Siri. Written down here it probably sounds bad, but it doesn't come across quite that way in the book. Just go with the flow and enjoy it. This is the first in what became a series and I am sure I will check in again shortly. I enjoyed this as much for the sense of place it evoked as anything.
richardderus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rating: 3.875* of fiveThe Book Report: In the Vientiane, Laos, of November 1976, green-eyed Dr. Siri Paiboun is the seventy-two-year-old coroner...the only one in the newly liberated by communism country...charged with discovering why Mrs. Nitnoy, powerful leader of the Laos Women's Union and wife of Member of Parliament Kham, suddenly keeled over dead. Her husband insists it was her peasant taste for raw pork. The judge Dr. Siri works for thinks that sounds reasonable, and also unnecessary to investigate.Dr. Siri knows otherwise. Not because he's that good a coroner, since he's only had the job for ten reluctant months...he knows because Mrs. Nitnoy told him so.After she was dead.So begins a fascinating look into the chaotic world of Southeast Asia in the wake of the Vietnam War, told from the out-of-the-Anglophone-ordinary viewpoint of the Southeast Asians left to pick up the pieces. The story follows Dr. Siri as he is manipulated from behind the scenes in someone's quest to hide truths from the doctor, someone who clearly doesn't know...heck, even the good doctor doesn't know!...that Dr. Siri is the latest incarnation of legendary thousand-plus-year-old shaman Yeh Ming, and so has the ability to see spirits and call on ancient energies intrinsic to Laos's beautiful forested mountains.Dr. Siri is called upon to use his increasing skills as a coroner to look into the deaths of three Vietnamese nationals, in Laos for purposes both secret and unknown to anyone Siri knows; then is sent to the ethnically Hmong south to deal with the sudden and unexpected deaths of Army officers in charge of an economic revitalization program that doesn't seem to be revitalizing anything so much as devitalizing the men in charge; and while among the Hmong, who worryingly seem to know him better than he knows himself, Siri finally gets to know Yeh Ming, his fellow traveler in this green-eyed body in a country of brown-eyed people.With a combination of mundane detective skills, spirit guidance, and help from a formidable nurse, an eidetic Down's syndrome laborer, an old friend in high places, and a new friend in clandestine ones, Siri ties all the malefactors in knots and delivers them to the proper authorities (whether spiritual or mundane) with ribbons on.My Review: This book is such a welcome addition to my series-mystery-loving world. Dr. Siri is a delight. He's too old, and too weary, and too smart to be scared by petty bureaucratic thuggery. He values his comfort...oh yeah baby, the older we get, the more we do!...but his idea of comfort includes doing the real right thing, not the easy right thing.Cotterill gives Dr. Siri a deep and rich backstory reaching into Laos's colonial French past, extending into the jungles of Pathet Lao communist resistance, and through to the time of victory and the inevitable Animal Farm-esque disillusion that accompanies regime change. "Throw the crooks out!" the cry goes up, but the unsaid and often unrealized second part of that cry is, "and let our crooks have a turn!" Dr. Siri sees this, knows it, and frankly doesn't care. He's got no children, so no grandchildren, and so no, or a very small, stake in this Brave New World. Except, well, you know, there IS justice in the world, imperfect and piecemeal though it may be, but justice demands a good man's best be given and a heavy price be paid both for administering and evading it.He might only have one (metaphorical) eye, but Siri is honor bound to use it among the blind he lives with. It's this quality that makes him irresistible, and gives Cotterill's creation a semblance of life that brings him out of the pages of the book and into the imagination of the reader who lives in a world where ideals of fairness and decency and selflessness have degenerated into "don't tread on me" selfishness and mock-"liberty" that curiously resembles "don't tell me what I can do with what's mine" greed. It's these very things that Siri grimaces at.Jus
frisbeesage on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Coroner's Lunch is the first in a mystery series set in 1970's Laos. The Communist party has assigned the position of national coroner to 72 year old Dr. Siri. Siri is looking forward to a long, easy retirement when this posting, for which he has no knowledge or experience, comes through. Paired with a nurse who is obsessed with gossip magazines and a half-wit who knows the procedures better than both of them, he must solve some of the nation's most complicated, political, and perplexing deaths. He is both helped and terrifyingly hindered by the ghosts that appear to him and seem to have demands all their own.The Coroner's Lunch is a satisfyingly exotic mystery, fast-paced, filled with likeable characters, historical detail, and a touch of the afterlife. Cotterill manages to give everything with a lightly satirical touch that keeps the story entertaining. I look forward to many more in this series!I listened to the audio version of The Coroner's Lunch deftly narrated by Clive Chafer. He portrays the dry humor of Dr. Siri to a tee, bringing him to life. This is an audio that improves on the written version.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good storyline and interesting characters; a good read
Tangen More than 1 year ago
historical-research, historical-novel, history-and-culture, communism, Laos, mystery, murder Excellent mystery and characters! Grabbed my interest and just wouldn't let go! Siri has been a doctor for many years, but suddenly the regime demands that he become coroner for the whole country. With no proper advanced education. He is able to locate some old texts in a language he understands, and makes the best of things while ably assisted by the helper of the former coroner and a wise cracking young nurse, but little in the way of equipment. Despite party philosophy, the people maintain their religious beliefs in spirits, and this is very significant to the story. So, without spoilers, I heartily recommend this book!
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Love Dr. Siri and his staff. They are witty and delightful. Dr. Siri uses his age and wisdom in a refreshing and positive way to obtain what is needed to solve his case and manuver through Russian Polit Burea politics to his advantage. A great story.
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I loved this book! The murder mystery plot is good (3 or 4 stars), but the details of the society are marvelous (8 stars!). The humor and humanity make this far more than just another who-done-it.
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