Thursday, December 03, 2009


Characters with learning disabilities rarely appear in crime fiction and when they do it is usually as a suspect or a victim. I found it a breath of fresh air to come across Colin Cotterill's character of the morgue labourer, Mr Geung in The Coroner's Lunch.

Here Dr Siri deliberately misunderstands the obnoxious young Judge Haeng in a discussion about Mr Geung's future employment.

'I believe it is time for you to get rid of the moron.'

'The moron?' Siri shuddered. 'Oh, I don't know. I know he has his off days, but I don't think that is enough reason to kick Director Suk out of his job.'......................

'Director....? Goodness, no, Siri. I'm talking about the retard you have as a morgue labourer. I'm prepared to pay a full salary for that position now.'

'I'm so pleased. Mr Geung will be delighted when I tell him he can have a living wage.'
'Pay attention. I'm telling you to get rid of him and hire a normal person.'

'I can't get rid of him. He's the only one there who knows what to do.' .............

.....Judge Haeng, Mr Geung has a mild strain of Down Syndrome.
'He's constantly reminding me of procedures I've forgotten, and where things are stored. He has an amazing memory, and my nurse Dtui and I love him very much.'

This discussion of Mr Geung's qualities and abilities resonated with me as my younger son Jake, who has Down's syndrome, works part time in a cafe. A few weeks ago I thanked the lady who owns the business for looking after him, and her reply was 'he looks after us, and is better than the others.'

As far as his 'amazing memory' is concerned when he went off to residential college we took the opportunity to sort out the various forty seven Star Trek videotapes he had bought over a number of years. These had been purchased on forty seven different trips to W.H Smith or HMV where Jake spent about 20 minutes each time studying the boxes before announcing which one he would buy.
As we sorted through the videotapes, whose covers looked identical to us, we realised with utter astonishment that there were no duplicates. Jake had somehow managed to read or recognise and remember which episodes he had purchased already, and not buy that videotape again. Experts would say that memory feat was impossible for someone with Down's syndrome, and so would I if I had not witnessed it myself.
We moved on to buy DVDs but Jake is the only one who can operate the DVD machine!
I am looking forward to reading more about Mr Geung, Dr Siri and Nurse Dtui but at you can follow the further adventures of Jake and his friends on their visit to Dartmoor Prison.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! You are right that we have much to learn from those with disabilities, and Cottrell does a fine job of treating that issue.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hear, hear! You are right that we have much to learn from those with disabilities, and Cottrell does a fine job of treating that issue.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Splendid, splendid post, Norman, and a wee coincidence, for I wrote a comment on FF this morning, re public speaking, about an occasion on which I gave a talk about people with disabilities (I still use the term, for we've all got disabilities and I'm too old to keep up with the latest PC usages) and how they are perceived. The exchange in Cotterill and your own experience would have illustrated perfectly a good part of what I said on that occasion. Great to know that Jake and the Honeytones all do so well.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Hilarious dialogue!

I am so glad I bought The CoronerĀ“s Lunch last month :O

12:22 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Dorte, I hope you will enjoy it.

Philip I am disgusted by some of the modern jargon. The residents who were once 'villagers' are now referred to as 'service users'. Even the pc term learning difficulties I find annoying as we all have some kind of learning difficulty. There are many people who have a learning difficulty or even a disability about finance for instance. The problem is that working for a charity was once a vocation for dedicated people now it is just another career, and in some cases a very well paid one.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Margot you are right.
I am also learning a lot from your blog. Mostly that my knowledge of crime fiction is very limited in comparison with yours. ;o)

3:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very kind of you, Norman. What I enjoy the most about this crime fiction community is how much we learn from one another. I know that I learn at least as much from your blog and those of the other members of this community as anyone ever does from me.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You'll like Mr. Geung. He's a fine character, offering what seems like a convincingly well-rounded picture of someone with Down syndrome. Given patience and routine, he learns to perform valuable duties, and he carries them out with unparalleled loyalty and persistence. He also has quite as good a sense of humor as Dr. Siri's.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

9:35 PM  
Blogger Gavin said...

Thank you for this post, it reminds me of why I love Cottrell's books.

8:10 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Okay, enough is enough. Time for Dr. Pedanticus Peregrinatus to correct the copy and copy the correct. That's three enthusiasts who have spelled this poor man's name Cottrell. It is Cotterill, C-o-t-t-e-r-i-l-l, as on the cover at the top of this post. Now don't make Dr.PP tell you again.:-)

3:27 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

That is my fault as I made a mistake on this post. The enthusiasts assumed I would get the spelling correct. I hang my head in shame my excuse is that I have lot on my mind beyond crime fiction at the moment. :o(
Thanks Philip.

4:36 AM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

"All we like sheep have gone astray...". My thanks to you, Norman, for another opportunity to inject a bit of humour into things -- something I can always do with these days to distract me from less happy goings-on.

5:28 AM  

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