Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill

Maxine, at Petrona, has been recommending this book right and left. Here is a link to her review at Eurocrime. I was looking for something different, and it seemed like a detective novel set in Laos might be just the thing.

Dr. Siri Paiboun is the only coroner in Vientiane, Laos, in 1976. Indeed he is the only coroner in all of Laos. He also has no experience and no equipment, and hardly any staff. What he does have is a lot of dead bodies: wives, mistresses, and Vietnamese guys with mysterious injuries; how will he sort all this out? With skill, humor and pathos, he wraps it all up. This book is very funny, and Dr. Siri's subversive response to communism reminds me a bit of Arkady Renko's.

Some reviewers called this book a "cozy mystery" because of its lack of violence and brutality. I associate the term cozy mystery with authors like Diana Mott Davidson and Nancy Atherton, so I was a bit surprised by this analysis. But it is true that the violence is all off-screen in this book, which I appreciate. I like to read about the solving of murders, not the committing of them.

Discussions of international crime fiction are all over the Web. If you haven't visited the Eurocrime Web site, you could start there. I also discovered this site, Detectives Beyond Borders, which looked really interesting. I feel a little overwhelmed by all the choices.

Here’s another thing: while all these mysteries are fun to read, they are not so interesting to write about. I’m feeling a little bit of pressure to return to topics (or in this case, novels) that make for more interesting blog posts. I do have one more Karin Fossum book checked out of the library, so we’ll see if I take that on, or return to more usual fare, in the next few days.

(Book 44, 2007)


Susan Balée said...

Hi, Becky--

Because I am unemployed at the nonce (at least until January and not worried...yet), I decided to read a novel I've been putting off because it's over 800 pages long. Well, I'm really glad I did! Although the first hundred pages are a bit slow, this novel became "unputdownable." I am referring to "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell," which was a big hit a few years ago. It's by Susanna Clarke and if you want something to sink your teeth into, this book's a blast.

Another goody I read recently, given me by a friend, is Elizabeth Von Arnim's "The Pastor's Wife." She's the lady who wrote "Enchanted April," the charming tale about English ladies taking a break from their menfolk in Italy. Well, she's a *great* writer -- very witty and au courant. Her first cousin was another writer I much like from the same period: Katherine Mansfield.

Anyway, two recommendations if you like recommendations!

Becky said...

Susan, thanks for these. I started Jonathan Strange and couldn't get interested. Maybe I needed to hang in there longer than I did, because I know I didn't make it to page 100.

Years ago I read Elizabeth Von Arnim, something about her garden, Elizabeth's German Garden??? Does this sound right? I should look it up. I remember that it was delightful.

Peter said...

Thanks for the kind words. I've also read The Coroner's Lunch. I didn't go so far as to call it cozy, though I may have called it "a bit cozier than I would have liked."

In retrospect, this seems an odd comment for a book that touches on issues of poverty and political betrayal. I guess that because the novel depicts little violence and because Siri has such a gentle (though acute and subversive) sense of humor, I invoked "cozy."
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

Becky said...

Peter, someone else called it cozy also. I think of cozy mysteries as featuring middle-aged female amateur detectives, and set in some kind of non-threatening environment like a Bed and Breakfast. I agree that this book does not fit that bill! But Siri is very sweet, and I like that!

Susan B. said...

Hullo, again. Sorry to get tangential again after the Cotterill comments, but Becky you are right: "Elizabeth's German Garden" is another by Von Arnim and it's the one that was the best seller of her lifetime. I need to read it myself; I've only read about it.

She reminds me a bit of the Mitford sisters -- that kind of wit and intimacy in literary circles. H.G. Wells was one of her lovers (and he's lampooned in "Pastor's Wife") and then she had an awful, short marriage to the one guy she ever really loved: Alfred Russell, the elder brother of philosopher Bertrand.

Poor Von Arnim, the first hub and father of her children, didn't make much of an impression on her though they were married for a long time. He, of course, is the spoofed pastor in "Pastor's Wife."

Becky said...

Susan, yes, von Arnim reminds me of the Mitfords, and another author that I also think of in this context is Dodie Smith, who wrote I Capture the Castle, a very Mitford-like book.

Post a Comment