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Publisher's Summary

Laos, 1975: The Communist Pathet Lao has taken over this former French colony. Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72-year-old Paris-trained doctor, is appointed national coroner. Although he has no training for the job, there is no one else: the rest of the educated class have fled.

He is expected to come up with the answers the party wants, but crafty and charming Dr. Siri is immune to bureaucratic pressure. At his age, he reasons, what can they do to him? And he knows he cannot fail the dead who come into his care without risk of incurring their boundless displeasure. Eternity could be a long time to have the spirits mad at you.

©2004 Colin Cotterill (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“A wonderfully fresh and exotic mystery…If Cotterill…had done nothing more than treat us to Siri’s views on the dramatic, even comic crises that mark periods of government upheaval, his debut mystery would still be fascinating. But the multiple cases spread out on Siri’s examining table…are not cozy entertainments but substantial crimes that take us into the thick of political intrigue.” ( New York Times Book Review)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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Deeply Satisfying Listening Experience

The New York Times review (above) got this book exactly right: It works on multiple levels and makes for an exotic and entertaining read. The narrator performs brilliantly, giving each of the book's characters the kind of subtlety and affection needed to create a warm and deeply satisfying listening experience. It took me a few chapters to get used to the book's unusual rhythm, characters, and setting (1970s Laos), but before long I was hooked. The main character is funny, smart, and has a few "super" powers not typically found in the detective genre. And best of all, he refuses to kowtow to the humorless Communist Party hacks whose intrigues drive the action.

24 of 24 people found this review helpful

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  • Jane
  • NY, NY
  • 07-22-11

a splendid story

I haven't enjoyed a book this much in quite a while. It's southeast asian magical realism. both the magical part and the realistic part are exquisitely drawn. Better yet, I laughed out loud at some of the descriptions of bureaucratic foolishness. And it's a wonderful mystery to boot. Two mysteries, actually. I hope Audible audible records all of Cotterill's books

43 of 44 people found this review helpful

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Something a little different

At first I thought the narrator was monotone but that was before he got to Dr Siri's voice. Dr Siri was so dry and amusing that the contrast between the narration and Dr Siri's actual voice really worked so stick with it for that first half hour and you will be rewarded.

The mystery was interesting but not all that mysterious. This story was all about the interesting characters and their interactions.

Listen to this book and you won't regret it.

42 of 43 people found this review helpful

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Delightful find!

An elderly French-trained communist Lao doctor pressed into service as the national coroner in the years just after the Vietnam war sees ghosts and cleverly untangles mysteries both personal and political. Who'd a thunk it? This protagonist is sly, mocking, lucky, cynical and ultimately an absolute delight. I was so glad to see that it's a series!

18 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • Brad
  • Littleton, MA, United States
  • 12-04-13

Laotian Coroner During the Rise of the Pathet Lao

This is a refreshingly different type of mystery. It is set in the heady days of the new Pathet Lao communist government's victory in 1975. You have a very wily coroner, Dr. Siri, operating in a very backward country and capitol city, Vientiane with little or no technology. The plot is somewhat convoluted involving the newly ascendant Vietnamese that are tense political partners in those times.

I have a quibble. This book has dream sequences that start chapters. When listening and without context, this dialog becomes confusing as to what is real or not. Eventually, a listener catches on and can sort through it.

I liked this book very much. It is fresh and has a clever protagonist, a Doctor in his retirement years forced to become the state coroner. Of course, he gets involved in some political drama, as the new administration is the motif for the mystery. I feel like I learned quite a bit about a very obscure country and what life must have been like in this highly impoverished state.

This book, actually part of a series, is similar to Phillip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels set in the Third Reich, where an honest coroner/detective foils the corrupt system. It will be fun to follow Dr. Siri through future revelations and mysteries.

31 of 32 people found this review helpful

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  • Debbie
  • Toney, Alabama
  • 09-02-14

Post Vietnam War View of Laos from Coroner's View

I thoroughly enjoyed (strange to enjoy a story from the morgue, huh?) this audio book, much to my own surprise. A 72-year old doctor turned coroner, is not at all happy with the prospects, he was educated in Paris prior to the communist regime of Pathet Lao in Laos, now following the Vietnam war, the former French colony is forever changed. But Dr. Siri must play along. The twists and turns are hilarious, sad, strange and full of Asian mystical meaning, of which the kind doctor has a gift. This is great writing on many levels . . . the descriptions of post-war Laos, the great understanding of what the Laotian people endured and how they felt during this time (but were unable to express), the deceptions of communist, and the ingenious ways that all resilient people survive under horrendous conditions. I can't wait to go on to the next book in the series.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Leo
  • Greenville, NC, United States
  • 08-07-11

Delightful story

A delightful story with a truly delightful main character, Dr. Siri. Trying to navigate his simple way through the Communist Laos of the post-Vietnam War era, the good doctor battles murderers and bureaucratic nonsense with common sense and a very quick wit. You will find yourself laughing out loud at a few parts and having the hair on the back of your neck raised at others. The narrator does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life and giving them each a distinct personality. Overall, a very enjoyable read. I hope that the follow-up books in this series become available soon.

27 of 29 people found this review helpful

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I found this little book to be extremely charming. I didn't think I'd find myself relating to the 70-something year old protagonist, but Dr. Siri was surprisingly funny and very endearing.

It was also interesting to learn about 1970s Laos -- a time and place I'd never really thought of before.

The narrator's dry, relaxed delivery suited the story very well.


17 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • connie
  • Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • 12-02-11

excellent character and setting driven mystery

*fresh writing (Cotterill is master of the grusome but original simile)
*setting details make Laos come alive
*mystery is engaging (though secondary to quirky characters)
*humorous without belittling the situation of 1970s Laos
and well-priced!
I plan on listening to the entire series

25 of 27 people found this review helpful

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  • Sires
  • Chesapeake, OH, United States
  • 08-17-14

Darkly Comic Mystery Set in Laos Post 1975

Dr Siri Paiboun became Coroner more or less by default. He is 72 years old and had spent most of his earlier years as a doctor treating soldiers injured in the struggle for Communism to take over the government. Now it has succeeded and the worker's utopia has been deserted for the most part by the wealthy and educated class. He has an antique microscope, a few chemicals, and a camera that has a very strictly limited amount of film that his investigations must share with the social events of the nurses. There's a government spy installed behind his mortuary who complains about the smell of the corpses and mystical experiences that interrupts his nights.

The reader was very good and I quite enjoyed listening to this book with it's convoluted plot and interesting background.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful