Review: Thirty Three Teeth by Colin Cotterill

I find I cannot provide you a sensible synopsis of this book, at least not without giving away plot spoilers and/or jokes that Cotterill tells far better than I ever could. Suffice it to say that we’re in Laos in the late 1970’s and are once again sharing an adventure of Dr Siri Paiborn, the reluctant national coroner. In rapid succession his morgue becomes temporary home to two men who appear to have died in a bizarre bicycle accident and then a woman who may have been mauled to death by a bear. Dr Siri is then whisked away to another province where two charred bodies await his attention while his able assistant Nurse Dtui investigates the large animal population of Vientiane. Along the way there are subversive puppets, a plethora of spirit beings, a cursed box and a really cranky neighbour.

Like the first book in this series Thirty Three Teeth displays an almost absurd humour throughout. It’s the sort of humour that makes me giggle sneakily to myself as if I’m the only one in on the joke and the truly delightful thing is that I enjoyed it both at the time I read it then again hours (or days) later when one of the funny scenes replayed itself in my memory. Just like the old TV show Yes Minister it’s also the sort of humour that at first appears to describe a surreal fiction, such as the new government’s attempts to banish all spirits from the country, but isn’t quite so funny when you realise it’s probably not that far from the truth after all (I write this as my own government is putting the finishing touches to its latest ”protect the children’ legislation which will introduce a national internet filter to our once proud land).

Another standout feature of this particular tale is that we learn more of the back stories of some of the characters. In exactly the way that most chic lit doesn’t do, Dtui is revealed as the sort of heroine all women can admire. She has studied medicine by stealth since she was a young girl, looks after her ill mother in a most unselfish way and is as intrepid and dogged as the very best private eyes in detective fiction. Although he’s present we don’t see enough of Mr Geung, the morgue assistant who happens to have Downs Syndrome but isn’t wholly defined by it, in this book for my liking. However other likable characters do take on starring roles. My favourite of these is Detective Phosy who (sort of) helps Dtui and manages (just) not to die in the pursuit of his duties.

This is one of those books that I would recommend to everyone except perhaps the very, very literal. There’s a significant proportion that deals with what I call the ‘woo woo’ factor and for a few readers that will be off-putting. Dr Siri is the present host of an ancient spirit, Yeh Ming, with whom he has a somewhat tetchy relationship and in this book we do spend a fair amount of time watching him sort this out. I was happy to go along for the ride though I will admit it did just about reach my upper limit for strange happenings.

As with all the best humour, and the best crime fiction too, there’s something more than entertainment to be had here for those that want it. There’s a bigger message about it being a fairly sensible life philosophy to be good and kind to everyone and everything if for no other reason that you can never be quite sure they won’t have a chance to haunt you to an untimely death. Or you can just spend a few hours with a jolly big grin on your face.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 4.5/5

Publisher: Quercus Fiction [2007]; ISBN:9781847243768; Length 244 pages; Setting: Laos, 1977

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

The first book in this series was one of my top ten books of last year and I reviewed it here.

Thirty Three Teeth has also been reviewed at Mysteries in ParadiseEuro Crime and Crime Scraps

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4 Responses to Review: Thirty Three Teeth by Colin Cotterill

  1. Bernadette – Thanks for this wonderful review. Dr. Siri and his team are fast becoming friends of mine, too, so it was nice to see them featured here. I agree with you, too, about Cotterill’s sense of humor and the way it works itself all through his writing : ).

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  2. Norm/Uriah says:

    I got given books 4 and 5 but one brief glance at some reviews meant that I immediately bought books 1,2 and 3. I agree we don’t see enough of Mr Geung. ;o)

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  3. Maxine says:

    I too like this series even though I don’t go for supernatural. The characters and the humour are both priceless, but also he does not shirk from the serious stuff. I have about 3 on my shelf to read ( I have read the first 3).

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