Text Publishing, 2004
First line: Tran, Tran and Hok broke through the heavy end-of-wet-season clouds.
It's 1976 Laos, and the new communist regime is less than a year old. Dr Siri Paiboun at 72 years of age, was looking forward to a well-earned retirement after 40 years loyal service to the party. However, they have other ideas, and he is 'rewarded' with the post of chief (and only) coroner, despite his having no training for the position.
When the wife of a party official dies suddenly, Siri cannot find any obvious cause of death but the haste with which her husband claims her body arouses suspicion, and but tests reveal suspicious circumstances. Then two bodies in a nearby lake, and a third is found still weighted down at the bottom of the lake. They are identified as Vietnamese soldiers, and they have apparently been tortured. With a potential serious diplomatic incident on the verge of blowing up, Siri, with the help of a Vietnames coroner, and a trustworthy policeman, has to use his limited resources to find out what really happened.
Siri is a wonderful character, charming, compassionate, cynical and with a wicked sense of humour. This is a man who put a 'Welcome' mat on the morgue's doorstep. His two morgue assistants, Dtui and Mr Geung, are equally delightful, and I hope to see more of the policeman, Phosy.
There is a strong supernatural thread throughout this story, and normally this would put me off, but in this book it was handled just right. Siri is at the centre of much of the supernatural happenings, but his own cynicism helps to strike the right balance.
This is the first in the Dr Siri Paiboun series, and there are currently four more: Thirty Three Teeth, Disco for the Departed, Anarchy and Old Dogs, and Curse of the Pogo Stick, the last due for publication later this year. I know I can't wait to get my hands on all of these.
Colin Cotterill was born in London, trained as a teacher, started travelling and he's still going. He has spent many years in South East Asia, including four years in Laos and currently lives in Thailand. He has a great website too - http://www.colincotterill.com/
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