Friday, May 19, 2017

Review of Thirty-Three Teeth by Colin Coterill (Quercus, 2005)

Laos, mid-1970s, the country is transitioning to a new communist government. After many years hiding in the jungle and now in his seventies, rather than retirement Dr Siri Paiboun has found himself the new national coroner. He has also discovered he is host to an ancient spirit, which has opened up a whole new world. His new role examining the recently deceased and his ability to see dead spirits poses many questions and mysteries. His natural curiosity and willingness to resist and subvert the wishes of the political regime lead him to investigate deaths that others would prefer to be ignored. He is aided in his exploits by the formidable Nurse Dtui, Mr Geung, his mischievous mortuary assistant with Downs Syndrome, Inspector Phosy, and his long-term ally and senior politician, Civilai. When a bodies start to turn up with an unusual bite marks, Siri starts to investigate. He is distracted by a man who seems to have taken a running jump from the seventh floor of a government ministry, and a trip south to where two men have mysterious been burnt to a crisp. In the meantime, Nurse Dtui pursues her own line of inquiry.

Thirty-Three Teeth is the second book in the Dr Siri series set in Laos in the 1970s. Like the first in the series there is much to like about the story and storytelling. The real delight is the characterisation, especially Dr Siri, Nurse Dtui, and mortuary assistant, Mr Geung, who are all extremely likeable, multidimensional characters with interesting back stories. Dr Siri, in particular, shines with his easy-going charm and slightly rascal persona. Added to this is: the sense of place and time in the early days of the communist regime in Laos; the mythical and spiritual elements that sit easily into the tale without seeming contrived or oddly supranatural; and the unusual mysteries that are investigated. The result is a warm-hearted, charming and enjoyable tale that blends crime and social/historical commentary with magical realism to great effect.

No comments: