Cotterill, Colin - 'Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach'
A follow-up to KILLED AT THE WHIM OF A HAT, GRANDAD, THERE'S A HEAD ON THE BEACH is the second in Cotterill's new series set in Thailand, in the present day. It features the same odd mix of characters that make up the ex-journalist Jimm Juree's family, which include her slightly senile mother Mair, her ex-policeman grandad, her weight-lifting brother Arny, and her computer whiz transvestite 'sister' Sissie. Apart from Sissie who still lives in their old home town elsewhere in Thailand, the rest of the family run the 'Lovely Beach Resort', a run-down hotel on the coast, perched next to the beach.
The story starts with three mysteries. To whom does the human head washed up on the beach that Jimm finds on her morning walk, belong to? Who is the mysterious person in Mair's room with whom she is apparently amorously engaged? And who are the two beautiful and wealthy women, a mother and daughter, who have just turned up to stay at the hotel, but with no ID, or number plates on their car, and seem to have no problems slumming it, in the less than lovely rooms?
The police think the head is from a Burmese person, and are uninterested in following it up. Two aggressive men in a black SUV from the Southern Rescue Mission (SRM) foundation, take the head away, after threatening Jimm and Arny, and then being threatened back by grandad with a gun. Undeterred, Jimm visits the SRM but doesn't find much out, and the men in the SUV come back and throw a grenade into the freezer in the Resort's shop, as a further warning. Spurred on, Jimm tries to find out more about the local Burmese community, who appear to be half legal and half not. However, they seem reluctant to reveal anything they might know about the mysterious head. Later, with the help of an interpreter, she finds out from one of them that there several Burmese workers have recently disappeared, leaving behind all their possessions, and that they are possibly being forced to work on some kind of modern-day slave ships. Now she has to work out a plan to find the evidence and expose what's happening.
Meanwhile, Sissie is press-ganged into discovering the identities of the two mysterious women, from the engine number of their car. The daughter claims they are in hiding, because her father is one of the leading activists against the 'yellow shirts' (yuppies occupying Government House in Bangkok, protesting against the government), putting them in danger. A story that is a big raspberry as far as Jimm is concerned. Sissie discovers that the daughter had won a scholarship to study science in the USA, where she had a chequered study history and disappeared before collecting her diploma. But this doesn’t help Jimm solve the mystery of why they are hiding out. What's the real story? This makes another mystery for Jimm to solve.
And let us not forget Lieutenant Chompu, Jimm's friendly, gay, policeman, who has been evicted from his office by a new arrival, Egg, a man with a toupee who seems to have a connection to the two thugs in the SUV.
On top of this, other problems such as the monsoon drenching of the beach resort, the 'trial anti-depressives' that turn out to be some sort of Viagra for women, and the misquoted song lyrics at the start of each chapter, add to the comedic, eclectic mix of the book. More frenetic than the Alexander McCall Smith books, and with an off-the-centre sense of humour, this was an enjoyable book. The plot links to corruption and politics in Thailand keep an underlying note of seriousness to the story, but mostly its anarchic fun, not to be taken too seriously.
Michelle Peckham, England