The Second Biggest Nothing

Colin Cotterill | Fiction 2019

254 pages


Dr. Siri Paiboun is the National Coroner of Laos, retired.  In this book, set in 1980, Dr. Paiboun and his wife Daeng are first threatened through a note attached to the tail of their dog Ugly.  It is written in English, so it takes a few days for them to find a translator.  Suffice it to say, Siri, and everyone he knows and loves, could lose their lives to someone seeking violent revenge in the next two weeks.

But who wants him dead?  To search for the answer, we travel back to Paris in 1932, Saigon in 1956, and Hanoi in 1972, though we spend most of our time in Vientiane, Laos, where Siri lives.  Life goes on as usual.  He and Daeng run a noodle shop, and Siri’s best friend Civilai, as well as the chief of police and other important characters, all work to find the revenge-seeker.

I like Cotterill’s writing!  His story is good, well-paced and interesting, and his writing is captivating.  I actually laughed a few times, and this isn’t designed as a funny book ... it is designed as a mystery.  Here is one of my favorite examples of Cotterill’s writing, “It’s called brainstorming,” said Siri.  “You just say things for no apparent reason until you accidentally stumble upon a truth.  It’s like politics.”  (pg. 153)

So, why three hearts instead of four?  My fault, really.  I didn’t realize this was the 14th book in a series!  There isn’t enough character development or context for me to really understand the nuances of the relationships, their history, and the town.  If you are interested in exploring the Siri Paiboun series, you might want to start with the first book, The Coroner’s Lunch, written in 2004.