This novel, written by a British writer who lives in Thailand, is set in Laos, and it is the first in the series about Dr Siri Paiboun.
The book gives a strong sense of Communist Laos in 1976 and of the very intriguing character, Dr Siri. It grabbed me from the very first chapters because I had to know more about Dr Siri who begins his career as the State Coroner very reluctantly, but as all other doctors have fled, no one else is better qualified. He finds some French textbooks in the humble morgue and embarks on his new career though the just as inexperienced judge does not show much interest in his results. So Dr Siri does not have much left to hope for but retirement, the sooner the better.
But when he gets involved in two cases where someone apparently does not want him to get to the bottom of the causes of death, Dr Siri wakes up and shows what kind of person he really is. And this is also the point when he realizes that his assistants, the romantic nurse Dtui and Mr Geung who suffers from Down´s Syndrome, have hidden talents. So though the story is highly critical of the political system, it is very gentle and respectful towards the team who seem ailing and deficient on the surface. Perhaps it would have been impossible to unravel the rather unusual cases without the combined efforts of the unusual team, plus the aid of several spirits and an exorcist.
As if all these strong points were not enough, I enjoyed the style and the humour so much that I actually laughed out loud several times.
Here Dr Siri and Comrade Civilai from the politburo are eating their lunch sandwiches together:
He took a swig of his tea and handed the flask to Civilai. ´I don´t want to be cutting up bodies till the day I become one of them. I need this. I need to know when I can expect a replacement. When I can stop. God knows, I could keel over any second. What would you do then?´
´Eat the rest of your sandwich.´
This book is highly recommended for several reasons.
If you need further recommendation, you can read Maxine´s review here.