December 2, 2007

THE BRIGHT SIDE OF NOIR:

Where Sherlock meets the shaman: a review of THIRTY-THREE TEETH By Colin Cotterill (STUART KELLY, 12/02/07, The Scotsman)

NEWTON'S Third Law of Motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Something similar happens in literature. Take the current vogue for detective fiction: for every move towards the raw, the naturalistic and the nihilistic, we get a swing towards the knowing, the exotic and the absurd. Henning Mankell is balanced by Nury Vittachi; McCall Smith's Mma Ramotswe is the logical counterpart to Rankin's Rebus. Colin Cotterill's novels are very much on the "bright" side of the spectrum. Foreign location, quirky detective, ironic tone, fundamental decency: check, check, check and check.

Dr Siri Paiboun, the 70-something chief coroner in the Lao People's Democratic Republic, is our hero. His high position within the Communist hierarchy belies his disaffection (as an old, idealistic guerrilla, suffering from personal grief and bureaucratic frustration). He has Sherlock's logic, Quincy's forensic skills and Rumpole's ability to stick to the letter of the law, when expedient so to do. He is also the bodily host of a great shaman, Yeh Ming. Siri not only has to riffle through the mortal remains by day, but meet the immortal ghosts by night.


Posted by Orrin Judd at December 2, 2007 10:15 AM
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