A friend recommended “The Coroner’s Lunch” as the start of a series I might be interested in. I’m glad she did, otherwise the idea of a 72-year-old coroner in Laos in 1975, immediately after the communist revolution, would not have struck me as my sort of thing and I would have missed out on meeting Dr. Siri Paibo, one of the most interesting characters I’ve encountered in crime fiction.
Siri is a reluctant, and initially not very competent, coroner; appointed as a “reward” for services to his country but feeling as if he is somehow being punished instead.
He becomes the centre of political intrigues, murders, and hauntings, which he approaches with a unique mix of scientific method and irrational (but compelling) superstition,
Siri is a man who has lost most things except his, sometimes wildly inappropriate, sense of humour and his desire to find the truth. He is a brave man who does not believe himself a hero. He inspires strong emotions in others (they either want to kill him, marry him, worship him or learn from him) because he sees beyond the idea to the person and within the person to their spirit.
Parts of the book are gruesome, in a non-gratuitous way, and parts, like his conversation with some recently orphaned children, are truly moving without being maudlin or melodramatic. What holds it together is Siri sense of honour and common humanity.
Of course, there are also some good puzzles. at least three of them in fact, that kept me wanting to know what was going to happen next but mostly I wanted to know more about Dr. Siri.
The denouement of one of the plots is explained in a slightly clumsy way by a conversation between two characters who have previously only appeared in conversation with Siri but that is a small fault.
Most of the time Gareth Armstrong did a superb job of creating Siri and the characters around him but there were occasional stumbles over stress and even meaning, which the producer should have caught and fixed.
I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. “Thirty-Three Teeth” is already on my iPod.