Two great books I've read lately:

The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill
Dr. Siri Paiboun is a doctor looking forward to retirement. Instead he is appointed to serve as state coroner in Laos, 1976. Having only been in power for one year, the Communist Pathet Lao government are not the kind of people to be refused, even for a loyal doctor who helped them for many years. Still, this doctor is too old to tolerate bureaucratic stupidity, so he follows their rules as little as possible.

The story paints a picture of the absurd government officials without seeming too preachy against Communism. Siri and the average people he deals with are sympathetic, rounded characters. If you like mysteries, you'll like this. If you like stories with well-drawn characters, you'll like this.

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
I'm tempted to write about what genre this belongs to and what genre Lethem has written before and which of his books marks a point where he has changed or gone beyond genre. But I'll try not to. It's been done.

Motherless Brooklyn is about a shady mobster named Lionel Essrog, only he's not really working for the mob. He works for a detective agency that works for mobsters, or maybe they don't. The boss won't tell them exactly what the purposes of their assignments are, so they don't know enough to incriminate anybody later. Whatever it is, it's shady. So when the boss gets killed in the middle of a weird surveillance session, Lionel has almost no clues to find out who done it or why.

The other thing that keeps it from seeming like a "pure" mystery novel is that Lionel has Tourette's Syndrome, and it pops up on almost every page of the novel. Exhibiting it, thinking about it, discussing it, obsessing about it, because basically it's a variety of obsession. It makes you feel like you understand Tourette's, so it's good fiction whether or not it's accurate. Also there's a little zen and a little Yakuza involved, and they joke about all these topics without reducing them to stereotypes.

In the end, you've gotten to know the guy. That's what makes it a good story.


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