A friend recommended "The Coroner's Lunch" as the start of a series I might be interested in. I'm glad she did, otherwise the idea of a 72 year old co..Show More »roner in Laos in 1975, immediately after the communist revolution, would not have struck me as my sort of thing and I would have missed out on meeting Dr. Siri Paibo, one of the most interesting characters I've encountered in crime fiction.
Siri is a reluctant, and initially not very competent, coroner; appointed as a "reward" for services to his country but feeling as if he is somehow being punished instead.
He becomes the centre of political intrigues, murders, and hauntings, which he approaches with a unique mix of scientific method and irrational (but compelling) superstition,
Siri is a man who has lost most things except his (sometimes wildly inappropriate) sense of humour and his desire to find the truth. He is a brave man who does not believe himself a hero. He inspires strong emotions in others (they either want to kill him, marry him, worship him or learn from him) because he sees beyond the idea to the person and within the person to their spirit.
Parts of the book are gruesome, in a non-exploitive way, and parts, like his conversation with some recently orphaned children are truly moving without being maudlin or melodramatic. What holds it together is Siri sense of honour and common humanity.
Of course, there are also some good puzzles. at least three of them in fact, that kept me wanting to know what was going to happen next but mostly I wanted to know more about Dr. Siri.
The denouement of one of the plots is explained in a slightly clumsy way by a conversation between two characters who have previously only appeared in conversation with Siri but that is a small fault.
Most of the time Gareth Armstrong did a superb job of creating Siri and the characters around him but there were occasional stumbles over stress and even meaning which the producer should have caught and fixed.
I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. "Bad Teeth" is already on my iPod.
Hard to mix a detective story with the fantastical. Loved the local lore, spiritual side, but not when it went so far as to be totally unbelievable. Y..Show More »es, I think one was meant to find a way to tolerate that discomfort (of resolving the believable with the unbelievable--even the premise of the book, perhaps). But I'd rather have one thing or the other. That's just my taste--and probably no commentary on the skill of the author/narrator.
Tony Hillerman (1925 - 2008) introduced me to Navajo culture when I picked up a used paperback copy of "The Blessing Way" (1970), laying between small..Show More » metal cutouts of boots painted turquoise with magnets glued to the back, and a worn and rusted set of metric wrenches at Peddlers Pass in Prescott, AZ. For a few charmed hours, I was transported into a Native American culture nothing like the Ojibwa I was a little familiar with.
Before I listened to Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series, Laos merged into Cambodia/Thailand/Vietnam, just like all Native American tribes were somehow lumped together in my mind before Hillerman's books. Thanks to the epic journey from one end of Laos to the other of Siri's morgue assistant, Mr. Geung in "Disco for the Departed" (2006), I know that Laos is (or was) no more homogenized than any other tribal region. "The Coroner's Lunch" (2004) Book 1 introduced Dr. Siri and his resident spirit, Ya Ming ; "Thirty-three Teeth" (2005) Book 2 introduces the kind, sturdy autodidact Nurse Dtui; and this book - Book 3 shows how people with Down syndrome can preserver over incredible odds.
In "Disco for the Departed", old communist party fighter Dr. Siri solves an old, undiscovered mystery in the caves he and his comrades fought the war from. Deposed Laos royalty continues to play a small, fascinating role in the story. The ghosts that haunt the Disco are a good counterpart to the story, but - in the tradition of all good mysteries - spiritus ex machina does not solve the case.
I don't actually know if the Lao pronunciations are right, but I assume Cotterill - who lived in Laos for years but was raised In an English speaking country - chose Clive Chafer as a narrator because his Lao and Hmong pronunciation was good. I didn't need an audio version to enjoy Hillerman's books, but I'm around enough native Navajo speakers when I visit Arizona to know how to read what I'm seeing. Since I don't know Lao or Hmong, the Audible worked especially well for me.
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I'm SO looking forward to adding more of these gems to my audio library. Something interesting was always happening, and the sense of humor really ap..Show More »pealed to me as well. Very entertaining.
I used to have a crush on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation's Dr. Gil Grissom, so adeptly played by William Petersen. And Petersen as Will Graham in Mic..Show More »hael Mann's "Manhunter" (1986)? Based on Thomas Harris' 1981 "Red Dragon" prequel to the book/film "The Silence of the Lambs" (1988/1991), Petersen as a fictional investigator is tenacious and cooly ironic.
Gil Grissom/William Petersen, I'm sorry. I will always admire your entomological wizardry - but my forensic adoration had been replaced with the 1977 version of Dr. Siri Paiboun, the 73 year old National Coroner of Laos. Dr. Siri's impossibly green eyes are a tell that he is the host of a millennia-old sprit - but only Buddhists "in the know" recognize the shaman Ya Ming in the Laotian National Coroner.
In Colin Cotterill's "Anarchy and Old Dogs" (2007), the resourceful Dr. Siri is faced with a puzzle Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret would love. The question wasn't how an elderly man died: it was the result of a marriage of a poorly made Soviet truck with badly designed brakes, and a man blinded by cataracts who couldn't have seen it coming. Dr. Siri's question: who was the man, and why had he just picked up a blank "letter" sent from a town near the Thai border?
Dr. Siri's sardonic comments about communism and bureaucracy are a wonderful complement to the equally snarky repartee of his oldest friend, Comrade Civilai. Civilai and Dr. Siri are both founding members of the Pathet Lao. Civilai's adept maneuvering has gotten him party respect, a large house, and even access to a plane and pilot. Dr. Siri uses Civilai's privileges to solve the mystery, and to find romance.
I enjoyed the narration - as always, Clive Chafer's pronunciation of Lao, Hmong, and French words are an easy listen.
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I'm out of credits for the month. I have at least half-a-dozen Audible books bought on special, waiting for a listen, so I'm not totally bereft of li..Show More »stening options. But Audible, Audible, how about a BOGO on books in a series? I'll have to pause at Book 5 "Curse of the Pogo Stick" (2008) until I can afford last 4 Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries.
At the end of the civil war when the communists have assumed power, 72 year old Comrade Dr. Siri Paiboun, a French trained Laotian field doctor longs to quietly retire. Instead, he is pressed into very reluctant service as the National Coroner of Laos. Book 1 "The Coroner's Lunch" introduces Dr. Siri, who's learning to do autopsies with an outdated French textbook. The stunningly green eyed Dr. Siri is a catch for any woman who remembers a time when a radio was an even greater technological sea change than the iPhone. Dr. Siri runs into Madame Daeng on Book 4 - and in Book 5, he marries in a boring bureaucratic exchange of paperwork, followed by a traditional wedding. A pregnant Nurse Dtui and her investigator husband, Posee (spelling, I don't know!) and a cheerful Mr. Gueng are there to celebrate.
Shortly after their ceremony, a Hmong clan badly in need of supernatural assistance kidnaps Ya Ming. That's a particular problem for Dr. Siri, who is the physical host for the ancient spirit. Ya Ming is able to help the Hmong with their problem; and Dr. Siri solves a more human mystery at the same time. As always with Cotterill, the spiritual is a neat listen and a respectful introduction to non-Western beliefs, but the earthbound mystery isn't solved by 'idolum ex machina'.
The narrator is smooth, and his British? Australian? English is smooth, and he handles Laotian and Hmong words easily.
Worth the credit, as always. And my birthday is coming up - now I've got something to ask for.
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Comrade Dr. Siri Paiboun, the retired National Coroner of Laos, inhabits a world so vividly written it already stands the test of time. Colin Cotteril..Show More »l's Siri Paiboun series is set in late 1970's Laos, after the Pathet Lao overthrew the Lao monarchy, and at the beginning of a new country. Laos, as I've learned listening to Cotterill's books, is a rich collection of tribes, cultures, and languages. Their histories are as complex and fascinating as the legendary tribes of North America - the Navajo, the Ojibwa, and the Lakota. Cotterill's fiction is a window into daily living in the ascendency of Sino-Communist nations, just as Arthur Conan Doyle's (1859 - 1930) Sherlock Holmes stories are a glimpse into daily Victorian England and Tony Hillerman's (1925 - 2008) Lt. Joe Leaphorn series explores the culture and beliefs of the tribes of the American Southwest along with daily practicalities.
I visited China in 1981, shortly after it 'opened up' to western travel. It was a China of sturdy blue Mao suits; one speed no-brake bicycles instead of cars; of grain drying on city streets; of Hutongs instead of high rises; and of intermittent electricity even at the second best hotel in Beijing, the Friendship Hotel. If Laos was similar to China at about the same time, Cotterill's books are historically accurate. But it's not the details that bring me back to the series - it's Cotterill's characters.
"The Woman Who Wouldn't Die" (2013) finally - and finely - creates a real Madame Daeng, Siri's second wife. Madame Daeng and Siri met in the revolution, but he was married to the exemplary revolutionary heroine, Bua. Bua was the public role model of every aspiring Lao female warrior, including Daeng It turns out that Daeng was, covertly, as brave, clever and perhaps more deadly than Bua - but because her success was predicated on secrecy, no one - including Siri - knew.
Madame Daeng's autobiography is laid out in parallel chapters as Siri and Daeng solve a vexing mystery, along with his comrades - Nurse Dtui and her husband, Inspector Posey; founding communist party member Comrade Civilai; and Mr. Tsung, the extremely capable morgue assistant who coincidentally has Down syndrome. The mystery's a good one, and the Cotterill's more adept in this book than his previous books at laying out the clues without making them stand out as clues.
Cotterill's made a good choice of narrator in Clive Chafer. Chafer's good at switching between Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, and English. He's English and he's reading with an accent - not British, but? Whatever it is, I like it.
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Most people believe serial killers are an American invention. I mean 'American' in the truest sense: North, Central, and South American. This particul..Show More »ar psychopathic subtype may have first been identified, named and popularized by Western psychologists and sociologists, but the archetype existed in the East before the birth of Christ.
Colin Cotterill's "The Merry Misogynist" (2009) explores the idea of a Laotian serial killer. The killer's ability to succeed depends on the killer's innate understanding of Laos; its tribes; and communist bureaucracy in the 1970's. I have no idea if Cotterill's description of the half dozen papers needed to marry were correct at the time, but it certainly sounded plausible.
The country is scarred by war, and recovering slowly. The royal family has fallen, and after half a century of insurgency, the communists are establishing a new government. Resources are so limited that someone driving a truck, even in the capital of Vientiane, must be an important person with contacts and resources.
There's the mystery lover's question: does National Coroner (and the green eyed host of a 1000 year old spirit, Ya Ming) Dr. Siri Paiboun rely on 'deus ex solvo' to uncover the killer? No, of course not. Cotterill's settings are unique, but he follows the mystery writer's convention: the solve depends on solid facts, not the supernatural.
Clive Chafer's narration is great. He has an English? Australian? accent, which made the listen more exotic.
The flat, almost expressionless narration of this book caused me to take months to finish listening to it. I liked the story and the characters but t..Show More »he narration put me to sleep and I just wanted to fast forward somehow or get some humanity in it somehow. I would read or listen to another of Colin Cotterill Dr. Siri books maybe for the story, but I would be reluctant to pay for a download of another without sampling the narration first.
It's completely possible to fall in love with fictional characters. I've done it before. J. K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' (1997-2007) is an easy one. S..Show More »ome of the best times of my life were reading all seven books aloud to my (now adult) son. Stephen Colbert? I know he'll do well as the host of "Late Show" but I'll always miss "The Colbert Report" (2005-2014). Add the incomparable Dr. Siri Paiboun, the National Medical Examiner of mid- to late-1970's Laos and his wife, the talented noodle chef Madame Tseng to my beloved imaginary friends.
Dr. Siri is asked to investigate the 1969 disappearance? death? of a US senator's pilot son in Laos. Not that the Air America was a CIA front; not that Air America was running drugs and arms in Southeast Asia; and not that the United Stares was ever in Laos. The reluctant coroner but happy adventurer is allowed to select a pathologist's dream team to make the trip to the mountains of Laos. He chooses Madame Tseng: Nurse Dtui and her husband, Inspector Posey; Comrade Civilai; and Mr. Tsung, the morgue assistant with Down syndrome. Auntie Puu, a transvestite fortune teller, unexpectedly hitches a helicopter ride and joins the party at the Friendship Hotel. Add an American team, including the tragically alcoholic Major Harold Potter, and an unexpectedly claustrophobic setting, and more than one mystery, and it's an unexpectedly complex plot.
Dr. Siri's also the host of a 1,000 year old Hmong spirit, Ya Ming. Ya Ming's got lots of friends and lots of business he sometimes accomplishes without his host's knowledge. Cotterill did something in this book that he didn't do in the previous 7 in the series: there was a Ya Ming ex Machina. I guess it's acceptable as a literary device, but it's a bit of a disappointment.
Cotterill's books are full of witty dialogue and funny, frank characters. Be prepared to laugh out loud, often. Clive Chafer is a droll, memorable narrator and moves between English, Lao, Thai and Hmong pronunciations fluidly.
[Sorry for any misspellings - I did my best based on what I heard. If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]