Thank goodness for Colin Cotterill…
I mean it, we are very lucky that writer Colin Cotterill exists and that he is so prolific, otherwise we’d be drawing an almost blank for the fiction section of our Laos category. Laos is not a destination of choice for most novelists who write in English, or indeed who do English translations!
Let me introduce Cotterill’s creation – Dr. Siri Paiboun, the protagonist of a series of crime novels, eight of which have been published so far. The series begins in 1976 — Laos has recently become a communist state and 72-year old Siri Paiboun is appointed state coroner. It sounds like through much of this series, Dr. Siri is desperate to retire, but instead he must do the government’s bidding and handle the variety of cases which come his way, with the help of some outdated medical texts, inadequate supplies and a bit of witchcraft. Known for his wry humor and witty observations, Dr. Siri does his best to get to the truth while keeping the regime happy – not always an easy task.
According to expat-advisory.com Cotterill’s novels are “the best guide books to (the capital) Vientiane”, so we can be assured of lots of detail to help bring the city alive. And as Dr. Siri often branches out into the countryside, we should expect to see quite a lot of the areas surrounding the capital as well.
If you are off to Laos anytime soon, then it looks like the Dr. Siri Paiboun novels are a must read! And I love this article and video from Britain’s Channel 4 in which Cotterill talks about the dearth of literature in Laos, and how he hopes Dr. Siri can help.
But there is one other novel I have discovered that will take you to Vientiane…. The second book in John le Carré’s Karla Trilogy, The Honourable Schoolboy. If you enjoyed the first novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – then why not follow up with this one, which features Laos among other locations.
The Oregon Pacific Coast – Image courtesy of Klaus with K via Wikimedia Commons
Our second destination for this month, and our first US state to be highlighted on Packabook, is Oregon. Chosen in our public vote – Oregon is rich with novels, which like Laos, tend towards the criminal! Of the almost 50 novels discovered so far, well over half of them are crime novels – is there something about Oregon which brings this out in writers? I’ll leave that for the locals to let us know!
This time we have two very prolific writers who have set much of their work in Oregon. Phillip Margolin and Kate Wilhelm. I am fascinated by Wilhelm; aged in her 80s, she is not only a mistress of mystery, but also a well-known science fiction writer. Up to now, she has written nearly 50 novels. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Oregon is obviously a good place to live – no sign of retirement happening there!
One of the other gems to emerge in our discovery of Oregon is Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey, who also wrote One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (thanks for the tip Kirsten and Martha!) Set in the 50s and 60s, the novel is described on Amazon as having the “mythic impact of a Greek tragedy” and is the story of a family of Oregon loggers who defy a bitter strike which rages through a small lumber town. Amazon reviewers describe it as a “classic of American literature” and possibly the “Great American Novel”. Sounds like a must read.
I’m also tempted by Winterkill by Craig Lesley — the story of a contemporary Native American family and the relationship between fathers and sons, as well as Molly Gloss’s Wild Life. Set on the Northwest frontier in the early 1900s it tells of the adventures of a cigar-smoking, free-thinking woman who writes adventure novels.
With so much to explore, and what sounds like an amazing landscape reflected in these novels, I can’t wait to get myself off to Oregon!
Find novels for Oregon by going to Packabook’s USA page and clicking on ‘Oregon’ under the fiction category on the right hand side.
To the shipyards of England’s north-east…
And finally to our English county of choice – Tyne and Wear in the north-east of the country. This one is particularly close to home for me, as it is where my mother’s family is from. The county’s main city is Newcastle-upon-Tyne, known for its port, shipyards and history of coal-mining. But from the 1930s onwards, Newcastle experienced serious decline, with the closing of its last coal pit in the 1950s, and the demise of the shipyards in the 80s and 90s causing extensive unemployment and tough times for those who lived there. In more recent years, Newcastle has re-invented itself as a centre of business and culture, with a lively nightclub scene and some fabulous galleries.
As is to be expected, many of my book discoveries for Tyne and Wear focus on the lives of the working classes, with The Day of the Sardine and The Watchers and the Watched by Sid Chaplin being two fine examples. The books are recognised as classics of regional working class fiction. And once again, we have chosen a location which attracts the crime novelists – Newcastle’s quayside being a terrific location for all manner of dastardly deeds. Check out the crime novels of Howard Linskey and Martyn Waites to get your fix of north-eastern crime.
Find novels for Tyne and Wear by going to Packabook’s England page and clicking on ‘Tyne and Wear’ under the fiction category on the right hand side.
Thanks everyone for voting for your choices for these new additions to Packabook – and I look forward to announcing the winners for the January voting next week. In the meantime, how about exploring one of these new fiction locations. And if you have any other suggestions for novels which should be added – please let me know in the comments. As always – these selections are just the beginning and will constantly be updated.
P.S. Please note that at the moment I have a policy to mainly stick to traditionally published novels here on Packabook. It’s all part of my decision to carefully curate the books that I select. Down the track I will look at adding self-published novels, but for now, I want to be sure that the books I highlight have passed through the eyes of professional editors and publishers.
As you can imagine, a site like Packabook requires a LOT of reading (oh what a chore….) but even for someone like me, who looks forward to a long bus trip because it comes with uninterrupted reading time, it is impossible to read ALL the books I want to. And when that happens – I need to call in the help of our readers.
In searching for books set in Egypt, I came across the Amelia Peabody detective novels by Elizabeth Peters. We first meet Peabody in 1884 when she sets off on a tour of classical sites after a large inheritance. This parasol-wielding Victorian feminist soon finds herself in Egypt. When she becomes involved in an attempted kidnapping she sets out to solve the mystery, and thus begins a series of books that now number more than 20. We become embroiled in Amelia’s adventures, romances and family sagas and learn a whole lot about ancient Egypt along the way.
Now when I start reading a series of novels I want to finish them…and much as I’d quite happily be emerged in Peabody novels for the next three years, I thought it would be far more advisable if I brought in an expert. Lindsay Griffiths is a self-confessed Peabodyaholic and she helps me get to the bottom of her fascination with this feisty heroine.
There are A LOT of Amelia Peabody books. How many have you read? All of them, with the exception of the latest one – but I just added it to my iBooks reader on the iPad and hope to finish it before the end of my latest business trip!
What first attracted you to them? When I was in high school, we got a list of books for summer reading – one of Elizabeth Peters’ other titles was on there (Night Train to Memphis). I loved it and read all of the modern ones I could get my hands on. I’ve never enjoyed books from earlier time periods, so I was reticent to pick up any of the Amelia Peabody books. But there was one day I was so desperate to read something else that Peters had written, that I gave in and bought one. Fortunately, she’d written so many by that point, because I was immediately hooked and read the rest.
Do you feel you ‘get to know’ Egypt by reading these books? I feel I get to know Egypt in the late 1800′s, early 1900′s but not necessarily as it is now. It is a rather romantic portrait of the country, so I do feel as though I wish I were there at that time!
Does it make you want to go to Egypt? Yes, definitely – most anyone who knows me knows of my wish to go to Egypt and cruise along the Nile. I haven’t been yet though – but I’m encouraging my fascination by recently visiting the King Tut exhibit in New York City and researching the Smithsonian’s Egyptian tour.
What is it about Amelia Peabody that you like? She’s plucky, resourceful and sure of herself. She really knows who she is and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about her or her decisions. She knows she isn’t perfect, but makes the most of her assets instead of worrying about her flaws.
It is often the case with a series of books like this that you enjoy the first few and then your interest tapers off, is that the case with the Peabody books? Not at all – I was very excited to find out that there was a new book out. Also, I’m never one to re-read a book. Ever. But with the Peabody series, I enjoy them so much that I’ve just started reading them again. I’ve been reading them for probably about ten years, so I’ve forgotten what happens in the earlier ones – plus, I always feel that when enough time passes in your life, you’re reading them from a different perspective, so they will have different meaning to me now.
What would you say to any readers thinking about reading the Peabody books and embarking on what, you must admit, is a pretty serious commitment ? Do it. They’re a fast and enjoyable read and Peters writes the characters in such a way that you’re really drawn in and invested in what happens to them. They become like familiar old friends. Although I love the Peabody series, Elizabeth Peters’ other books are not to be ignored – they’re similarly excellent and enjoyable reads!
So there you have it! If you would like to embark on a Peabody journey then you will want to start with book number one Crocodile on the Sandbank and before long you will end up as big a fan as Lindsay.
P.S. Don’t forget to check out what other books set in Egypt we recommend.
And here’s what other bloggers have to say about Amelia Peabody: