The Coroner’s Lunch

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The protagonist in The Coroner’s Lunch, Dr. Siri Paiboun, a physician trained in Paris, suddenly finds himself asked to be the chief (and only coroner) in the village of Vientiane, located in the recently “liberated” Republic of Laos. In his mid-seventies, and inexperienced in pathology, Dr. Paiboun unwillingly accepts his comrades’ offer. The morgue is grossly under funded, ill equipped, and staffed with an equally inexperienced, but eager nurse and a Lab assistant with Down’s syndrome. Although the lab environment is far from ideal, Dr. Paiboun and his dedicated staff discover that his secret ability to communicate with the recently deceased is far more valuable than a modern laboratory.

As the doctor becomes more engrossed in his work, his abilities as a medium become stronger. The spirits of those who died of unnatural causes come to him offering clues that will help solve their murders.

These cries for help intensify when the bodies of three Vietnamese diplomats are fished out of a river. Within the same week, the coroner’s office receives two new clients; the first is the body of a top official’s wife, dead of presumably natural causes, and the second body is that of the same official’s mistress, an apparent suicide. The government is seeking death certificates confirming natural causes, but Dr. Paiboun believes (and the spirits confirm) that all five were murdered. The mysterious deaths, coupled with the clues left by the frequent visits from beyond, transform Dr. Paiboun from a second rate coroner into a detective with extra sensory perception.

As the doctor delves deeper into these cases, the likelihood of him becoming the morgue’s next patient increases.