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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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616956493
Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/07/2015
Series: Dr. Siri Paiboun Series , #1
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 158,314
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.

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The Coroner's Lunch (Dr. Siri Paiboun Series #1) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 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.
Anonymous 6 months 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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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harstan More than 1 year ago
The Coroner's Lunch Colin Cotterill Soho, Dec 2004, $23.00, 272 pp. ISBN: 1569473765 In 1975 the Pathet Lao takes over Laos incorporating a communist bureaucracy centered from the capitol at Vientiane. Most of the country¿s intelligentsia fled but septuagenarian Paris trained physician Dr. Siri Paiboun remains behind expecting to gently retire. However, the new government names Siri state coroner. He deduces this was done because his superiors like Magistrate Haeng expect him to make no waves since he was the last breathing medical doctor still in country.--- Though Comrade Haeng tortures Siri with his required ¿burden sharing tutorials¿ that questions the obvious, the doctor shockingly takes his job seriously seeking the truth even when the brass wants heart attack as cause of death regardless of reality. He upsets the party with his inquires into the death of Comrade Kham¿s wife as Haeng claims food poisoning. Siri further upsets the communist balance with his deeper look at the accidental deaths of three men who show signs of torture in spite of being food for fish. Finally the suicide of Mai seems a fake to hide homicide. As Haeng harangues, Siri sets things right.--- Readers who enjoy mysteries in other lands will fully appreciate this delightful tale. The story line provides a deep look at Laos as the Communist Party transitions into power with Siri applying logic to solve cases that his by the book superior wants buried. With the help of dreams that enable the hero to humorously organize his cases, his life, and his society, Siri is a terrific protagonist. His wry comments and asides satirizes his plight as a not so indoctrinated Communist who joined five decades because of how a woman who became his wife breathed. THE CORONER¿S LUNCH is a winner due to him.--- Harriet Klausner