The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill


Historical Mystery

The coroner's lunch The Coroner’s LunchColin Cotterill; Soho Press 2004WorldCatDr. Siri fought for the Laotian communist cause since he left college in France. When he was in his 70s, the communists finally won. He had been looking forward to retirement at that time. But no, the Party isn’t done with him. Now, a year later, he is the Laos’ official coroner – and only coroner.

It is 1976 and the turmoil in Southeast Asia is outwardly settling down. Laos has no crime (presumably). Dr. Siri is 72 and feels he is done with life although it isn’t done with him. The judge he reports to is around 30 or so and very full of himself. He feels the need to question autopsy findings. When we first meet them, the judge is hoping that the man whose legs were cut off in an accident may have died of a heart attack instead. Dr. Siri quietly holds his ground without causing trouble.

Mrs. Nitnoy is brought to the morgue after falling over dead at a Women’s Union Party luncheon. Dr. Siri starts his autopsy when her husband, Major Kham, comes in. She had been secretly addicted to a drug that must have finally killed her. He takes her body for ritual cremation. Something isn’t right. Dr. Siri feels compelled to check further into her death. There is this suspicion that perhaps she was killed.

A drowning victim is brought to him. The man appears to have been tortured before being dropped into the lake. Dr. Siri learns another drowned man was also found, but sent to the Vietnamese doctor who is in Laos for a political visit. As the two men compare notes, it’s obvious the two men died together. They learn there may be a third victim as well, so have to check the lake. Once the third body is found, the two doctors know they may have a political powder keg in their hands.

Colin Cotterill has taken a time and place that Americans know little about and brings it to life. Now that the Soviet Union is involved in Laos’ government the hoped for glorious future is dimming. Dr. Siri views his country with a mixture of love and cynicism. It’s good that 75% of the Laotian population is able to go to school. Too bad there aren’t enough teachers for them, let alone good ones. Those, like the earlier mentioned judge, may go for more schooling or training in the USSR, but are rushed through and barely learn enough to start at a beginner’s level, let alone a responsible position.

Dr. Siri thought he was done with life. When someone threatens him, he tells the person that killing him is not a threat. He was ready to die. But after his life is really threatened, he discovers there more life for him to live.

The Coroner’s Lunch is an absorbing book. It is written with a light, deft touch, so the reader doesn’t feel threatened. Yet the reader isn’t on the outside, either. Cotterill pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go. Dr. Siri is the right mixture of elderly statesman, loyalist to his country, and cynic of the world around him. He can see the absurd and understand the serious.

The mysteries keep the reader guessing. The different threads weave in and out, leaving clues but not enough to reveal the antagonists.

If you like a well crafted mystery with interesting characters, you’d do well with The Coroner’s Lunch. It’s also a chance to learn some history you didn’t know.

Dr. Siri series at Stop! You’re Killing Me
More books by Colin Cotterill

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