Books imitate life, as always, and in this case my next stop on this literal journey (see #AW80books) after Myanmar / Burma is – as in life – Laos. And what a stop. I found this book, The coroner’s lunch, while visiting a rehabilitation centre in Vientiane dedicated to victims of landmines and UXOs (Laos holding the grimm record of the most bombed contry in the world, much of it still remaining and causing casualties to this day), a very informative – and rightly depressing – centre, so when I saw they sold a series of books by Cotteril, who has been teaching and living in Laos for decades and decided that all the profits from those should go to Laos and specifically this centre, I was more than happy to combine a good deed with the acquisition of a new books (because buying more books, when for a good cause, does not count, that is the rule!).
Anyway, I mostly expected a pleasant book and an opportunity to learn more about Lao culture. It is that, of course, but so much more:
This is a crime series, in a very light-hearted tone, with as a protagonist and main detective a 70 year old disabused coroner, Dr Siri Paiboun, who has a dry wit and a limited experience at his job but what he lacks in technical equipment and knowledge he makes for in intelligence, and with the help of a charmingly orignal team composed of a young, quick witted nurse, a morgue assistant with down syndrome and a remarkable memory, a old friend with political connections and, mostly, the spirits of the dead who find their way to his morgue table.
In a collection of small annecdotes slowly building a main mystery, navigating between party politics (this takes place just a few years after the communist revolution in Laos), international relationships with Vietnam and neighbour’s quarels with a skill that has much to do with recklessness, as he doesn’t have much to loose anymore, Dr Siri and his dry wit takes you on a tour of Laos, from the sandwich stalls in Vientiane to the Ethnic minorities of the North.
It is both playful and informative, just about the solar oposite of the dark, brooding tones of the scandinavian thrillers I was reading a few days before, but just as fun, and, from what I’ve seen of the Lao spirit, a good representation of the philosophy of its people.
Yet another great pick for a country, and one I would definitely recommend, and not just because it might be difficult to find other books set in Laos, so there’s not much to choose from;)
Quote: (for a sample of Dr Siri’s self depreciating tone):
“- Do you suppose it all means something?
– That we’re being left clues?
– Then, no offense, but I fear they’ve badly overestimated us.”