(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Colin Cotterill, a career educator in underserved regions of the world and a strong children’s advocate, began writing genre fiction early in the twenty-first century. He has drawn considerable attention in short order. His main literary contribution consists of the creation of a unique protagonist operating during a specific—and intriguing—historical time frame, within a colorful, largely unfamiliar cultural environment.

Cotterill knows his territory well, having lived and worked for years among the ordinary folk of Australia, Thailand, Japan, and Laos. A landlocked country, Laos is sandwiched between Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and China. Its capital is Vientiane, situated on the Mekong River along the border of Thailand. The country, the city, and the era—the mid-1970’s, after the Pathet Lao, backed by the Soviet Union and North Vietnam, forced King Savang Vatthama to abdicate—are all brought to life by Cotterill’s straightforward, ironic, readable prose.

The author paints a geographic, social, and historical backdrop against which a fascinating cast of characters, led by wise man and wise guy Dr. Siri Paiboun, are put into motion. The actors, like breathing humans from any place or time, are prey to all life’s foibles, like lust, greed, jealousy, and revenge. They gripe about the weather and the inflation rate. They make errors of judgment and leap to conclusions. Their speech, like that of real people, is peppered with profanity and slang, and they prove by example that despite differences in place, time, and heritage, people are all alike in some ways.

Cotterill’s series novels have picked up momentum, both critically and commercially, since The Coroner’s Lunch debuted to acclaim in 2004. In 2007, following its translation into French, the novel won an award for Best European Crime Novel given by the French National Railways, entitling the author to a year’s free rides on French trains. Cotterill’s follow-up, Thirty-three Teeth (2005), won the Dilys Award as a booksellers’ favorite.