I’m in the midst of an obsession.. with a fictional 73 year old Laotian, the star of Colin Cotterill’s mystery series set in post-1975 revolution Laos. Dr Siri Paiboun is the national coroner, kind but cynical, dedicated but often disillusioned. With no budget or lab equipment and no previous experience either in forensics or detecting, Siri and his loyal assistants Nurse Dtui (Fatty) and Mr Geung have prevailed in a number of tricky cases featuring murderous evil spirits, corrupt Communist officials and a virgin-slaying serial killer.
These titles have been marketed in America as being in a similar vein to Alexander McCall Smith’s Botswana based Mma Ramotswe novels. Like Smith, Cotterill’s tone is humorous and his characters warm and engaging; Siri however is clearer eyed than Precious Ramotswe. He recognises the deficiencies in the new Laos and being a natural-born rebel and risk-taker he delights in subverting the system. These titles are also less static; Siri and his cronies spend lots of time bouncing about in rustbucket trucks and death-trap motorbikes on the sub-standard roads of Laos tracking down dirty, rotten criminal-types.
Now on title six in this series, The merry misogynist, Cotterill’s book jacket author photos have also been an evolving delight. The Coroner’s lunch featured Cotterill in what look like Thai silk pjs and a highly dubious moustache. The tashe remained in varied forms through the next few titles but his latest photo shows him clean shaven and clad in non-silky garments…whew. Rubbish author photos aside, these novels are a delight. Fast and funny, and with a novel locale they are well worth a read.