Who knew that spending the summer in 1970s Laos could be so much fun? The Dr. Siri Paiboun books of Colin Cotterill are equal parts political parody, mystery, historical fiction, and travelogue and graced with a main character that is wonderfully sarcastic and wise. If you enjoyed Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Ramotswe books, you should enjoy these, though the humor is more biting.
The first book in the series is The Coroner’s Lunch, which introduces us to Dr. Siri Paiboun, reluctant coroner and able sleuth. He thought he would be retiring but is pressed into service as the national coroner of Laos. Supporting characters like Nurse Dtui and morgue assistant Mr. Geung are also engaging.
The title comes from the baguette lunch Dr. Siri has every day with his friend, Comrade Civilai. These lunches provide some but not all of the laugh-out-loud lines to be found in this book and its sequels. The humor perfectly leavens the more serious aspects of the book as the bodies of Vietnamese soldiers and the death of the wife of a party official occupy Siri. This book and its sequels are highly recommended for anyone who enjoys mystery and sarcasm.
Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy is an engaging non-fiction about the virus with the highest fatality rate known to science. The authors talk about the connection between Rabies and myths of vampires and zombies. They also describe rabies cases from that of a noblewoman bitten by her dog to a modern case precipitated by a bat bite.
The authors do an excellent job of keeping up the dramatic tension. The most notable instance of this is their description of Louis Pasteur waiting to see if his vaccine will cure or kill a little boy. Few works of fiction have moments so thrillingly nail-biting. Also, I loved the “People’s Scientist” title they give Pasteur. This book is definitely recommended and you may also like The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.