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3 cosy mysteries reviews series (1): The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill

The Coroner’s Lunch (2004) is set in Laos in Southeast Asia. The year is 1976 and the Communist Pathet Lao are in power.

The narrative is told in third person and follows Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72 year old physician living in Vientiane. I first fell in love with mysteries that involving dissecting dead bodies was watching the CSI series . A coroner seems to be a great diversion from the usual private investigator’s narrative.

Dr. Siri’s been a battlefield surgeon for 40 years. After the royal kingdom’s abolished and replaced with the new socialist regime, he’s looking forward to retirement. Instead of retiring, Dr. Siri’s appointed by the politburo to be the country’s one and only head coroner despite the fact that he lacks any experience and has limited resources & supplies.

After ten months of on the job training, he gets handed a couple of high profile cases that eventually makes him the target of a deadly assassin who is said to be a “master of disguises.” In fact, this story had multiple subplots going and the author did a good job with keeping me fascinated with them all.

Before this for cosy mysteries, the only books I have read are the No. 1 Ladies Detective series. Every cosy mystery I read from now on I can’t help it but to compare with this series. There is nothing to compare of course, because The Coroner’s Lunch is filled with political suspense with a solid plot. I am wondering if I may be reading the book in my most stressful at work period because I didn’t understand who is who in the plot and there were many characters popped up and drifted away that confused the life of me. The Coroner has supernatural power too and receives messages from the dead through his dreams or subconscious.

Dr. Siri is a French educated surgeon and is also a shaman known by the name Yeh Ming. This is another part that I found most confusing but I’ll take it at face value that he is a shaman and can speak Hmong (a hill tribe in Indochina) when the situation calls forth. He is assisted by Nurse Dhuti, unqualified but do as she is told, helping alongside we have Heng, the coroner’s assistant who has down syndrome.

There is a few high cases going about in Dr. Siri’s schedule, one involves the sudden death of a senior party official’s wife. She collapsed while having lunch at the Women’s Union. The husband claims to know what killed her but then he proceeds to put pressure on Dr. Siri to release the body and then sneaks off with his autopsy report. Dr. Siri decides to investigate further since his results kind of clash with the husband’s claims.

For his next case, Dr. Siri’s asked to personally perform an autopsy on 3 drowning victims, Tran, Tran and Hok (I can’t remember names!!). This investigation will result in serious political consequences. The victim was a member of a three man Vietnamese delegation traveling to Laos for a secret mission and now they are dead. In between those two cases, Dr. Siri is asked to investigate the mysterious deaths of several soldiers in the Hmong village. It’s there that he learns that he’s a shaman. The commanders accused the Hmong people of poisoning their soldiers despite the commanders attempt to help the locals. Their military goal is to restore the districts (after the ravages of war) and to substitute their opium crop.

Dr. Siri is very likable and picks up his barguette from a lovely lady seller named Auntie Lah every day. Auntie Lah is regarded by Dr. Siri as a pretty hen, as compared to newly hatched chick, figuratively speaking. There’s some humour to lighten up the mood when things get dark. The story is darker than the No. 1 ladies detective series. I wish I could have read up about history of Laos to understand the politics a little more and a glossary for Laos terminology would be helpful too. The names of the Laos people also tend to be similar and once so many are introduced to the plot, it is hard to suss out who is who and who is actually doing the talking.

Dr. Siri was married before to Boua and she died while Dr. Siri was away by someone throwing a grenade into his home.

Siri was surprised at how easy it was to talk about (his past). He’d kept this story inside himself for eleven years; now here he was blurting it out to a monk he hardly knew. The Catholics had it right. It was very therapeutic to share a burden with a man of the cloth. Except the Catholics probably handled it more delicately than the Lao.

‘I bet it (the bomb) was meant for you.’ – page 181

I haven’t fallen in love with the first book as much as I expect with the No. 1 ladies detective series. However I have a soft spot for stories set in South East Asia, compared to all cosies or books available, very few are set in remote Laos. Perhaps I will follow the series through when time permits.

Other lovely book cover art….


I am reading this for the Mystery & Suspense reading challenge.

Paperback. Publisher: Soho Press 2010, originally published in the UK 2007, 2004 for the rest of the world; Length: 271 pages ; Setting: 1976 Laos.  Source: Reading Battle Library. Finished reading on: 8 June 2011.

I’ll feature The Case of Missing Servant by Tarquinn Hall on the next one.

About the writer:

Colin Cotterill was born in London and trained as a teacher and set off on a world tour that didn’t ever come to an end. He worked as a Physical Education instructor in Israel, a primary school teacher in Australia, a counselor for educationally handicapped adults in the US, and a university lecturer in Japan. But the greater part of his latter years has been spent in Southeast Asia. Colin has taught and trained teachers in Thailand and on the Burmese border. He spent several years in Laos, initially with UNESCO and wrote and produced a forty-programme language teaching series; English By Accident, for Thai national television.

Ten years ago, Colin became involved in child protection in the region and set up an NGO in Phuket which he ran for the first two years. After two more years of study in child abuse issues, and one more stint in Phuket, he moved on to ECPAT, an international organization combating child prostitution and pornography. He established their training program for caregivers.

All the while, Colin continued with his two other passions; cartooning and writing. He contributed regular columns for the Bangkok Post but had little time to write. It wasn’t until his work with trafficked children that he found himself sufficiently stimulated to put together his first novel, The Night Bastard (Suk’s Editions. 2000).

The Dr. Siri Paiboun series consists of the following 7 books to date: The Coroner’s Lunch (Soho Press. Dec 04), Thirty Three Teeth (Aug 05), Disco for the Departed (Aug 06), Anarchy and Old Dogs (Aug 07), and Curse of the Pogo Stick (Aug 08), The Merry Misogynist (Aug 09), Love Songs from a Shallow Grave (Aug 10)

On June 15 2009 Colin Cotterill received the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger in the Library award for being “the author of crime fiction whose work is currently giving the greatest enjoyment to library users”.

Colin is married and lives in a fishing community on the Gulf of Siam with his wife, Jessi, and ever-expanding pack of very annoying dogs (said Wikipedia) but according to the publisher 2010 edition he is living in Chiang Mai. Either way, he is living in Thailand.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


14 thoughts on “3 cosy mysteries reviews series (1): The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill

  1. Sorry you didn’t like this one a bit more Jo, but at least you didn’t hate it. For some reason the humour of the Dr Siri books appeals to me so I am able to ignore the paranormal aspects of the books – normally that kind of thing would be offputting for me. Will be curious to see how this compares for you to the Tarquin Hall book – I read it earlier this year and didn’t know quite what to make of it – I never ended up reviewing it as I couldn’t make up my mind about it.

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | June 16, 2011, 2:07 am
    • Bernadette, I kind of like the humour of Dr. Siri but I was distracted by all the names and plots that came zigzagging my way. Maybe I didn’t start the book with a right frame of mind. I’m trying to find a time to sit down quietly to write a review about Tarquin Hall’s book. Stay tuned!

      Thanks for being here Bernadette.

      Posted by JoV | June 16, 2011, 7:52 am
  2. How fascinating! I’ve never read a book set in Laos, so for that reason alone I’d be interested in checking this one out. I am a fan of cosy mysteries, though admit I was never able to get into the No. 1 Ladies series.

    Posted by Steph | June 16, 2011, 3:45 pm
    • Steph, I do love the No. 1 Ladies series. Now that I come across more cosy mysteries I may love a few more series! Yes for the reason of Laos alone you must read Dr. Siri series. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | June 16, 2011, 8:35 pm
  3. Interesting review of an interesting book, Jo! This series looks really interesting because of the setting (I have never read a book set in Laos) and because of the interesting characters. Thanks for introducing a new series to us readers 🙂

    Posted by Vishy | June 16, 2011, 4:01 pm
  4. Now that post title got my attention! ;D I actually picked this up from the library a couple of months ago but although I liked Dr. Siri it wasn’t cosy enough for me. I might have to give it another try.

    I had much better luck with Vish Puri, so I’m very curious about your review of that one!

    Strangely, I have never been able to like McCall Smith’ books. They look perfect, they sound perfect but every time I open one of his books, the magic disappears, it’s very disappointing.

    Posted by Bina | June 17, 2011, 1:11 pm
  5. Ah another book review site to add to my reader. along with Vishy’s reviews. Thank you so kindly for coming by blog and leaving a comment.

    Posted by Linda | June 21, 2011, 8:28 pm
  6. Doctor Siri as he is called is every bit as eccentrically winsome as Smiths Precious Ramotswe and neither is a sleuth in any hard-boiled sense.Its just that as his countrys national coroner Doctor Siri often finds himself on an intimate basis with the dead. That Doctor Siris body is host to the spirit of a thousand-year-old shaman only makes his intuition that much stronger.This series first appeared here less than three years ago with The Coroners Lunch which is set in 1976.

    Posted by business | July 1, 2011, 5:02 am


  1. Pingback: Halfway there.. It’s a wrap: June 2011 « Bibliojunkie - June 30, 2011

  2. Pingback: The Coroner’s Lunch (Dr Siri Paiboun #1) « Olduvai Reads - November 28, 2012

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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