The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill is set in the 1970s in Laos. The country has been taken over by the communist regime and most of the educated classes have fled the fighting and the takeover. Siri is a doctor and he is over 70 years’ old. He has practised all over the world but has now been appointed as the coroner for the whole of the country. He has no training, few resources, little information and a staff who may or may not be informers for the government. During this story he tries to solve a number of suspicious deaths but finds himself frequently out of his depth. Fortunately, the ghosts of the dead victims often visit him in his dreams and show him what to look for.
Despite the seemingly serious content I think this is meant to be at the cosy end of the crime novel spectrum. We see everything from Siri’s point of view and he is a man who finds that little fazes him at his time of life. He has a number of good friends who can help him out and he frequently thwarts those in power in order for justice to prevail. Besides the ghosts Siri also has a very spiritual experience when visiting a tribe in an isolated locality. You need to accept the supernatural parts of the story which are taken as matter of fact truth by Siri and some others with whom he shares his experiences.
I found the tone of this book difficult to gauge. Sometimes it was cosy and we spent time with Siri and his friends. At other times the tone was darker especially when describing the corruption of the state, the shattered infrastructure of the country and the violence of its methods. There was an undercurrent of sadness related to Siri’s dead wife. I didn’t feel comfortable with this book as I found this inconsistency unsettling so it wasn’t a particular easy read. This may, of course, just be a personal feeling of mine when reading this book – this is the first in a series which are popular.
I was interested in reading about Laos, a country which I know very little about but obviously we are reading about it at a time in history rather than today. The author conveys well the tensions of a country under communist rule that is trying to remake itself despite few resources.
Although I did have some reservations, I enjoyed this book and thought that it was an interesting read. I would like to read more about Siri and his colleagues.