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Cannonball Read III: The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill

By Trudi | Books | October 25, 2011 |

By Trudi | Books | October 25, 2011 |

For those of you paying attention, you’ll know that Cannonball Read reviews are generally only posted on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The reason for today’s “extra” CBR post is that Trudi reached her Half Cannonball goal, and I wanted to make sure that was recognized. Congratulations to you! And what a great book to go out on.—TU

The Coroner’s Lunch is the first book in a series of crime novels about Dr Siri Paibourn, the (fictional) national pathologist in communist Laos. The book is set in 1975 immediately after the communists successfully overthrew the royal family and French-sympathizing Lao government. At age 72, Dr Paibourn was hoping to enjoy a quiet retirement, but instead he is called upon to perform his duty as national coroner, because the communists can’t be seen not to have this paragon of justice and independence in place after the revolution.

The only problem is, Siri isn’t actually a pathologist, only a regular physician, and the morgue in Vientiane lacks even the most rudimentary tools required for his new trade. His only means of assistance are Dtui, a trained nurse, and Mr Geung, a man with Down’s syndrome who was patiently trained by Siri’s predecessor into becoming an invaluable aid due to his memory, sense of smell, and prowess with a hacksaw! Despite this lack of experience and resources, Dr Paibourn’s insatiable curiosity and 6th sense with regards to the spiritual world (he literally sees a lot of the victims in his sleep) leads him to unravel a politically sensitive mystery involving three tortured and murdered Vietnamese men discovered in a lake. Unfortunately, curiosity killed the cat and soon Siri finds himself in lethal danger…

This is a crime novel truly out of the ordinary. While The Coroner’s Lunch has a well-conceived crime story as its base, it is almost more interesting for its depiction of life in Laos in the aftermath of the communist revolution. Dr Paibourn’s cynical observations of the political intrigue and the harsh realities of Laos’ new communist rule seem heartfelt and believeable. At the same time, the author avoids the temptation of overdoing it or of including any pro-American, capitalist propaganda. The result is a crime novel which not only entertains you but also leaves you feeling like you actually gained new insight into a recent part of history, a remarkable feat indeed!

As if this wasn’t enough, this book has an extra feel-good factor: all the proceeds from this book series go to three Lao charities close to the author’s heart. Big Brother Mouse is an organisation which publishes childrens’ books in the Lao language to promote literacy; COPE is an NGO that produces prostetics and other aid for victims of the many unexploded bombs and cluster bombs (UXO) left in Laos after the Vietnam war; and the last is a series of scholarships for rural youth training to become teachers before they return to their native villages to teach. I don’t know about you, but if this isn’t a good enough reason to buy this excellent detective story, I don’t know what is!

For more of Trudi’s reviews, check out her blog, My Blog.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.

If you’d like to hear a brief interview with the author on NPR, click here.—TU

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