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The Coroner's Lunch (Dr. Siri Paiboun, #1)
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Asia and Down Under 2015 > Laos: "The Coroner's Lunch" by Colin Cotterill

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message 1: by Betty (last edited Aug 19, 2015 08:56AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments A balanced review of the "cosy" crime novel The Coroner's Lunch. The title is the first of the Siri Paiboun Mysteries series.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I will enjoy rereading this. I'm immensely fond of Dr. Siri and have read the series. Some author background info here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/s...


message 3: by Betty (last edited Aug 20, 2015 08:56PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Your reference to PBS Masterpiece is excellent. I've been looking into this novel's mid-70's setting and glancing through reviews of it. There's almost nothing to add from those investigations, the former being extraordinarily complicated and the latter mentioning similar things in their previews. So, I gather the factor of Enjoyment is most important here. At present, Dr. Siri seems eccentric in his communicating with departed spirits. Main characters who are septuagenarians should get an applause.


Renee (courtneyflats) | 1 comments I came to the Dr. Siri series when The Coroner's Lunch was a daily deal. I loved it so much I purchased the Audibles edition and listened to it almost as soon as I finished reading the book. I then recommended it to a friend who shares my account and she loved it too. Cotterill has gifted Siri with an independent spirit mixed with compassion for others plus a cynical disrespect for official policies and the ability to circumvent them to create a very memorable character. Secondary characters are also well drawn.


Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments National Public Radio's (NPR) broadcasts about the beginning of the Dr. Siri series
http://www.npr.org/2012/08/10/1585443...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...



message 6: by Betty (last edited Aug 21, 2015 02:40PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Renee wrote: "I came to the Dr. Siri series when The Coroner's Lunch was a daily deal. I loved it so much I purchased the Audibles edition and listened to it almost as soon as I finished reading the book. I then..."

I think that the tenth book in the series was published this year in May, the title Six and a Half Deadly Sins. Besides the Dr. Siri Paiboun series, there is Cotterill's Jimm Juree Mysteries series set in neighboring Thailand.


Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments (Ang) Nam Ngum Reservoir in which the pair of dead bodies surface.
caption and photo (it's easy to miss the threads at the bottom of the page)

video

Rough Guides history of it, p. 115



message 8: by Suzann (new)

Suzann | 60 comments Negotiating government bureaucracy,corruption seemed at first to be a skill seekers of truth might have to hone in less democratic locations, but I've come to think it's a more universal skill required even in our own lauded justice system.


message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Asma Fedosia wrote: "At present, Dr. Siri seems eccentric in his communicating with departed spirits. ..."

Yes, the whole spirit thing was one of the endearing things, besides his great compassion and cynicism, about Dr. Siri. Ghosts and spirits seem to be an important part of many Asian traditions. I'd previously read and loved Robert van Gulik Robert van Gulik 's Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee Chinese mysteries series in which ghosts play an important role and was delighted to come across another. I may have mentioned previously the fascinating movie Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives (trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk-Eo... and on Netflix), but it really gives a sense of alternative universes among us. This is something of a guilty pleasure though given the living conditions of the peoples of Laos:

"According to the anti-corruption non-governmental organization Transparency International, Laos remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world. This has deterred foreign investment and created major problems with the rule of law, including the nation's ability to enforce contract and business regulation. This has contributed to a third of the population of Laos currently living below the international poverty line (living on less than US$1.25 per day). Laos has a low-income economy, with one of the lowest annual incomes in the world. In 2013, Laos ranked in 138th place (tied with Cambodia) on the Human Development Index (HDI), indicating that Laos has lower medium to low development. According to the Global Hunger Index (2013), Laos ranks as the 25th hungriest nation in the world out of the list of the 56 nations with the worst hunger situation(s)."


Also from wikipedia: "The Lao government heavily controls all media channels to prevent critique of its actions. Lao citizens who have criticised the government have been subjected to enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and torture." And "The Centre for Public Policy Analysis, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Lao Veterans of America, Inc. and other non-governmental organisations (NGO)s have reported egregious human rights violations, religious persecution, the arrest and imprisonment of political and religious dissidents as well as extrajudicial killings, in Laos by government military and security forces. Human rights advocates including Vang Pobzeb, Kerry and Kay Danes and others have also raised concerns about human rights violations, torture, the arrest and detention of political prisoners as well as the detention of foreign prisoners in Laos including at the infamous Phonthong Prison in Vientiane. Concerns have been raised about the high-profile abduction of Laotian civic activist and Lao PDR's only living Ramon Magsaysay Award laureate Sombath Somphone by Lao security forces and police on 15. December 2012." And: "Subsistence agriculture still accounts for half of the GDP and provides 80% of employment. Only 4.01% of the country is arable land, and a mere 0.34% used as permanent crop land, the lowest percentage in the Greater Mekong Subregion.Rice dominates agriculture, with about 80% of the arable land area used for growing rice.Approximately 77% of Lao farm households are self-sufficient in rice."

And a bleak future: http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21...

Somehow Cotterill's depiction just seems too romanticized.


message 10: by Betty (last edited Aug 23, 2015 06:25PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Suzann wrote: "Negotiating government bureaucracy,corruption seemed at first to be a skill seekers of truth might have to hone..."

Right off the bat Dr. Siri Paiboun is "negotiating" with the unwise judge. The former keeps calm when confronted with the latter's bluster. The writing of the sort of epigraph, "People's D R of Laos. October 1976", leaves a hint of mystery .


Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Don wrote: "Yes, the whole spirit thing was one of the endearing things, besides his great compassi..."

I recall the ghosts in several of the Japanese novels. For instance, in The Tale of Genji, a malevolent spirit in a female character, unbeknownst to her, travels to harm another character. I recall also watching "Uncle Boonme". Quite a difference those psychologies and imaginations are from the realpolitik of business and government. On one hand, the country of Laos is squeezed among Thailand, China, Vietnam, and others and its borders are permeated by seekers of its natural resources and land. On the other hand, there are several publishing organizations for the promotion of literacy and one can still find some fabulous photos of architecture and some world heritage sites amidst the appalling statistics and conditions.


Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments The edition of this novel I'm using, The Coroner's Lunch (Dr. Siri Paiboun, #1) by Colin Cotterill displays a cover photograph which apparently is done by Randal Jeter (Laos, photo#8). I don't know why the photographer isn't mentioned in the credits beside the photo's title, "Tha Khaek Monk, Laos". Perhaps it was not duly copyrighted at the time of the book's publication. About the photo, my guess is that the monk comes from the Buddhist monastery of Wat Pha That Sikhottabong. The temple and its famous stuppa are situated on the outskirts of the central Laos river town of Tha Khaek (also Thakhek, Tha Khek). Across the Mekong River is Thailand. Starting in the town, motorbikers loop the area, especially visiting some villages and some caves through which runs a navigable river. The history of the town's name is said to derive from the Indochinese traders of Thailand and/or India, and the word indicates a foreigner or a guest.


message 13: by Suzann (new)

Suzann | 60 comments Asma Fedosia wrote: "The edition of this novel I'm using, The Coroner's Lunch (Dr. Siri Paiboun, #1) by Colin Cotterill displays a cover photograph which apparently is done by Randal Jeter (Laos, photo#8). I don't know why the photographer i..."

I wonder if Asian cultures other than Japan are community rather than individual centered. In Japan books are often cataloged under the publisher rather than the author. Attribution may not be as legally defined as it is in the west where royalties accrue to folks like photographers down the creative pecking order.


Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Suzann wrote: "I wonder if Asian cultures other than Japan are community rather than individual centered..."

Yes, possibly. I don't know where in the world the original photo was copyrighted. Thanks for sharing your knowledge about Asian copyrights and cataloguing.


message 15: by Betty (last edited Aug 24, 2015 01:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Don wrote: ",,,Ghosts and spirits seem to be an important part of many Asian traditions..."

In Laotian Folklore, there are examples of malevolent spirits, of protective spirits, of an edifying scoundrel, and of ethnic tales.

Asian Tales and Tellers by Cathy Spagnoli

Folk Stories of the Hmong Peoples of Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam (World Folklore Series) by Norma J. Livo

Lao Folktales (World Folklore Series) by Wajuppa Tossa


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Asma Fedosia wrote: "In Laotian Folklore, there are examples of malevolent spirits, of protective spirits, of an edifying sco..."

Thanks for the pointers Asma. These look interesting.


Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Don wrote: "Thanks for the pointers..."

You're welcome, Don.


message 18: by Betty (last edited Aug 24, 2015 08:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments I'm wondering whether Dr. Siri's duties were more in-line with a medical examiner or a coroner. When he started the job, he needed more training, presumably in the field of forensic pathology. His original physician's schooling did not teach him that specialty. Unless medically trained, a coroner would probably not do invasive sampling of tissues, etc, but present a conclusion on the cause of death. If so, the book title with "coroner" sounds better than one with "medical examiner". Is this suggestion plausible? as I'm a short way into the novel.


message 19: by Betty (last edited Aug 26, 2015 10:15AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Rummaging about the topic of Dr. Siri Paiboun, I found some more material about his literary character and his country Laos. Found at Indochina Travel Company, one is a film "The Rocket". A surviving twin at birth, a boy ironically carries bad luck with him until he builds a rocket for a contest.

Found at Traveling with Dr. Siri in the Land of a Million Elephants, another one is from Laotian history. Laos was once and is still known as The Land of a Million Elephants (under a White Parasol) from when it was known as Lan Xang. It's royal and religious city of Luang Prabang appears in the next of the Dr. Siri Paiboun series.

In the last one, a PW interview with Cotterill portrays Dr. Siri's background as a lifelong comrade.


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Asma Fedosia wrote: "If so, the book title with "coroner" sounds better than one with "medical examiner". Is this suggestion plausible?..."

I think so. In the US, you don't need to be a doctor to be a coroner, but I believe you do to be a medical examiner. Wiki says "Within the United States, there is a mixture of coroner and medical examiner systems, and in some states, dual systems. The requirements to hold office vary widely between jurisdictions." So who knows what the system was/is in Laos. Liked the PW interview too, in which Cotterill says that he envisioned Dr. Siri as the Lao version of a Thai celebrity medical examiner Dr. Pornthip. She seems like quite a fascinating person:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornthi...
However, no luck finding any of the 30 "gory" books he says she authored. Did find her biography though which I'll try to run down: The Dead Do Talk


Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Don wrote: "...Liked the PW interview too, in which Cotterill says that he envisioned Dr. Siri as the Lao version of a Thai celebrity medical examiner Dr. Pornthip..."

Quite amazing that you picked up on that reference, Don. Fictional settings and characters are generally a reconstruction of reality. It's satisfying when a reader figures out the provenance of a plot or of a character. As you also noted, a link is evident in Flanagan's redoing Böll's story.


message 22: by Betty (last edited Aug 30, 2015 09:42AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Don wrote: "...he envisioned Dr. Siri as the Lao version of a Thai celebrity medical examiner Dr. Pornthip...."

Exactly, and I just read the episode in which Dr. Siri and Dr. Pornsawan confer about Mrs. Nitnoy. Their venue is an event sponsored by the Lao Women's Union. The LWU began in 1955 and continues to work for Laotian women's empowerment and equality.

Other real cultural features of Vientiane mentioned in the story so far are the Anusawari Arch (also) and the Presidential Palace. Not to confuse the arch and the monument on top of it. And the name has changed to Patuxai. It's the arch through which Dr. Siri's bicycle without brakes wildly speeds before its colliding with the palace, i.e., outside of it with the merchant.


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

Asma Fedosia wrote: "Other real cultural features of Vientiane mentioned in the story so far are..." So glad that you posted the links to the monument photos. I never would have visualized them the way they actually look without seeing the linked photos.


message 24: by Betty (last edited Aug 31, 2015 02:57PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Two more fiction related to Laos

Never read either, so can't comment apart from the addition of their synopses.

A Thousand Wings -- http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0...

The Bronze Drums -- http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/Jean_L...


message 25: by Betty (last edited Sep 02, 2015 09:44AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments It's the year 1976. Having boarded the return plane to Vientiane after his visit to the traditional Hmong village, Siri takes note of surrounding deforestation.
"The shirtsleeved forester was very helpful in pointing out the project site to Siri as they passed over it. The doctor was overwhelmed by its scope. Hectare upon hectare of prime jungle had been shaven bald. The devastation extended in each direction as far as his eye could see [chapter The Exorcist's Assistant]."
Internet resources indicate that deforestation continued in the years following. Wikipedia says, "The volume of logs (roundwood) removed for industrial purposes increased by about 70 percent between 1975–77 and 1985–87, to about 330,000 cubic meters." According to The Rough Guide to Laos, deforestation is a major environmental problem. World Bank News ("Forest Resources and Protected Areas", pp 18-21) describes the history of Laotian deforestation and the attempts at stemming and regulating it.


Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments In this mystery novel are the shamanic involvement with good or malevolent spirits among the Hmong, and the vivid, hallucinatory dreams in Siri's visit to a Hmong rural village and in his Vientiane house. Long ago, the Hmong eventually settled in China, later entering Laos, Thailand, and other southeast Asian countries. With the Laotian Communist government of the mid-1970s, many Hmong began another diaspora. Where did they go? Which art forms and pictorial stories documented their experience? Story cloths, "paj ntaub", their traditional textile designs capture the symbolic power of orally transmitted myths. Realistic pictorial stories with figures and written words occur with their international resettlement. Products for tourism, too, are maintaining the craft's practice.
The Hmong story cloth
Photo essay
Examples of designs.



Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments The quote from the novel, "Socialism is a great cosmos, but trust is the atmosphere that holds the stars together." (chapter "The Dead Coroner's Lunch") seems like the phrase of a political philosophy text or of a poetry book. Upon looking for its origin, I conclude that it's apparently an original by Cotterill.

Overall, labels don't fit this story, imo. It's a logical (and lucky) detective whodunit and an irrational one of magical realism (shamanic spiritualism). Both of those seek to dispel evil in the midst of their society. The sequel, Thirty-Three Teeth, is supposed to be as good or better.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) I ended up reading this because it was mentioned here and then in passing in an entirely different context. Clearly a sign, perhaps Yeh Ming spoke to me. ;)

I always enjoy mystery novels best if I learn something about a place, and this falls into that category for sure. I'm curious about the books that happen afterwards. I was happy (view spoiler) I am also curious to see if the spirit world is more of an emphasis in the future, or if that was just the context for this one.


Betty Asma (everydayabook) | 3610 comments Jenny (Reading Envy) wrote: "... I am also curious to see if the spirit world is more of an emphasis in the future, or if that was just the context for this one."

There now are ten, the tenth Six and a Half Deadly Sins being published in 2015. Siri's spiritualistic ability is not noted in the Goodreads description of that title, but descriptions of some previous installments mention its importance in problem-solving and its relation to Yeh Ming's inner presence.


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) Asma Fedosia wrote: "There now are ten, the tenth Six and a Half Deadly Sins being published in 2015. Siri's spiritualistic ability is not noted in the Goodreads description of that title, but descriptions of some previous installments mention its importance in problem-solving and its relation to Yeh Ming's inner presence. "

Ah, great. Like most mystery series, I probably will not return to it right away, but will keep it in mind when I'm in the mood for this genre.


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