The Coroner’s Lunch

  4W, 4H

Cotterill, Colin, (c. 2004). The Coroner’s Lunch.  Soho Press.  257 pages , $22.95.

ISBN:  1569473765

Reviews

New York Times, Kirkus Reviews

Annotation:

Appointed as State Coroner in Communist Laos, Dr. Siri upsets the Party by taking his job seriously, solving politically sensitive murders with his unique style.

Summary:  

Seventy three year old Dr. Siri is looking forward to retirement regardless of the societal upheaval surrounding him in 1975 Communist Laos.  An apolitical, Parisian educated doctor, the Party magistrate appoints Dr. Siri to the position of state coroner knowing that he will be a good communist and tow the party line.  But Dr. Siri is not one to do much towing and finds himself butting heads with his appointees when he decides to take his job seriously and work the cases brought to him.  Along with his two assistants, Siri uncovers the secrets behind three intertwined murder plots much to the annoyance of those in charge.

1970’s Cambodia is brought to life through the sobering and sarcastic observations of Dr. Siri.  He is a realist that enjoys the beauty of his country while he puzzles over the contradictions of ruling power.  The country’s history is eloquently brought in to the story through the power of dreams which helps remind the readers that Cambodia is a country rich with cultural intent.

Evaluation:

Cotterill successfully describes an area of the world that has long been in a tug-a-war for its identity.  Dr. Siri and his colorful assistants are wonderful characters that add three dimensions to a period of time that proved to be both chaotic and predictable.  Effective sleuthing will appeal to the mystery lover and the area and political turmoil that create such vivid imagery will appeal to the history buff.  The combination is effective and makes for a perfect “cozy” read.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Cozy

Readalikes:

The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri.  Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill.  Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton.

Book Discussion Questions:

What do we learn in the first pages about Dr. Siri?

What is Laos’s relationship to Thailand? to North Vietnam?

Does the paranormal add to to take away from your enjoyment of the story?

Reasons for selection:

Colin Cotterill was recommend to me by a friend who knew I enjoyed mysteries and stories that took place in other cultures.  Cotterill is a great find and I recommend him to many people who enjoy a light, yet intriguing read with fun, surprising characters.

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The Return Journey

  2W, 2H

Binchy, Maeve, (c. 1998). The Return Journey.  Delacourte Press. 214 pages , $18.65.

ISBN:  0385315066

Reviews:
Publishers Weekly  Vulpes Libris blog

Annotation:

In fourteen short stories, relationships unfold around what can or cannot be during different journeys.  The characters are realistically flawed yet always redeemable

Summary:  

This compilation of short stories moves between Ireland, Europe and the United States, introducing characters with different backgrounds, situations and motivations.  All the stories revolve around some aspect of travel where relationships and discoveries can either be built up or destroyed.  There is the young couple, secure in their knowledge that they are in a perfect relationship until they shop for suitcases for an upcoming journey, discovering how different they really are.  One story tells of the dedication of a property manager whose life gets happier as others’ lives spiral into slumps.

Maeve Binchy, known for her heartwarming stories, manages to fold fourteen separate scenarios into one volume.  The characters’ motivations develop quickly moving the each story quickly to its end.  And not all the endings are completely predictable, just as life is never completely predictable.

Evaluation:

This is a quick and light read for those that enjoy short stories and leisurely paced writing.  Although some of the scenarios are dated and admittedly, slightly annoying, Binchy has produced an enjoyable series of stories where women and men must question their motivations and ultimately live with the consequences.

Genre/Sub genre:

Mainstream Fiction/Short stories

Readalikes:

Snow Angels by Fern Michaels. Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver.

Book Discussion Questions:

Which was your favorite story and why?

Besides travel, did you notice any other common themes throughout the stories?

Why do you think the action of taking a journey can be symptomatic of the health of a relationship?

Reasons for selection:

I found this book by just browsing through the stacks at one of the library branches where I was killing time  in between meetings.  I hadn’t read much of Maeve Binchy and I normally do not seek out short stories so I thought I’d give the compilation a try.  I found myself enjoying the vignettes of life portrayed in each scenario and the endings that always left the reader wondering about the character’s next steps.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows

I am half-sick of shadows: a Flavia de Luce novel    4W, 4H

Bradley, Alan. (2011).  I am Half-Sick of Shadows.  New York: Delacorte Press. 320 pages.  $17.99.

ISBN  978-0385344012.

Reviews: 

National Post Review;  The Globe and Mail

Annotation:  

Flavia de Luce, a precocious 11 year old, puts her sleuthing skills to the test when a famous actress is murdered at the family estate.

Summary:  

It’s a few days before Christmas in Bishop Lacey, a fictional village in post World War II England.  As outlined in previous novels, the de Luce’s have financial troubles so to help bring in more money, Flavia’s widowed father, Colonel de Luce, has rented out the family estate, Buckshaw, to a film crew.  The famous actress Phyllis Wyvern will be starring in the film and while all the household is starstruck, it is Flavia that earns her trust.  In the middle of a snow storm that strands the majority of the villagers at the estate, Flavia discovers that Phyllis Wyvern has been murdered.   And although the local police do not always appreciate her help, there is a grudging admiration for her sly and effective ways of always putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Evaluation:

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels always deliver.  The appeal of these books lies in the unique 11 year old perspective that is delivered through the precocious and adventurous eyes of Flavia.  She is the youngest of three girls whose widowed father has detached himself from the world through stamp collection and the older sisters are a constant source of irritation.  Yet Flavia’s keen determination for the truth drives this independent child into situations normally avoided by children her age and most adults for that matter.  And while she is helping to put together the clues of the murder, she is bound and determined to prove her sisters wrong by developing a plan to “capture” Father Christmas on the roof of Buckshaw before he has a chance to get down the chimney.  In true Flavia style, both mysteries are solved simultaneously with impressive energy.

Genre/Subgenre:

Mystery/Cozy

Readalikes:

A fatal grace by Louise Penny

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

Book Discussion Questions:

How did Flavia put her chemistry passion to use in this novel?  What has been your favorite use of chemical observations in this series?

Bradley dives deeper into the de Luce family relationships with each novel.  How are Flavia’s observations of her family changing?

At the beginning of the novel, we are in the midst of Flavia’s dream.  How does the dream define Flavia?

Reasons for selection:

This is the 4th novel in the Flavia de Luce series and I have opened every one with great anticipation.  Flavia was introduced to me by a long-time Adult Services librarian who sensed my appreciation for mystery, wit and the cozy feel of the English countryside.  Perhaps this is Harriet the Spy with an even greater IQ and a lot of access.  After all, not every child has their own fully operational chemistry lab!