The Coroner's Lunch

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 August, 2007, 12:00am

The Coroner's Lunch

by Colin Cotterill

Quercus, HK$165

Colin Cotterill has tapped into a growing demand for murder mysteries set in relatively unfamiliar climes. The Coroner's Lunch takes readers to 1976 Vientiane, where septuagenarian Dr Siri Paiboun is forced to assume the post of chief coroner of the new Lao People's Democratic Republic. Having served the Pathet Lao for decades and ready for retirement, he accepts the post reluctantly, but brings with him a work ethic the authorities don't expect or appreciate. Little does it matter that he has never performed a post-mortem examination before or that his assistants are equally untrained. When corpses start arriving on his slab, the detective in him starts asking questions. First, there's the wife of a Party leader whose cadaver smells of almonds; then there are the bodies of Vietnamese soldiers that have been dumped in a lake. Overnight, Siri turns into Kay Scarpetta, but with one advantage over the American forensic sleuth: he has help from the dead, who visit during his sleep to point the way forward. Cotterill, who took time off from his work with abused children in Thailand, has done well to create in Siri a character who is effortlessly enduring. And placing the story in Laos is a definite plus.


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