Cotterill, Colin - 'Killed at the Whim of a Hat'
In a sleepy village in Southern Thailand Old Mel gets his dim-witted nephew to dig a well for his oil palms. But they find more than water when Old Mel's nephew hits metal part way down, successfully cuts through it, and plunges out of sight. Eventually the nephew calls up to Old Mel from the darkness. He says that he is sitting on a mattress, windows all around, with two skeletons - one wearing a John Lennon cap and the other draped in hippie beads.
For Jimm Juree, a 30-something crime reporter in exile from the big city, the entombed VW Kombi and it skeletal occupants is all that she could wish for in order to feel back in the swing of things. Cooking mackerel and chillies in a run down coastal resort is not how she planned her career path. But when her mother sold the family home and shop in bustling Chiang Mai and struck out for a new life running a beach hotel on the Southern coast, Jimm's options folded. As she guts the hundredth mackerel - she just can't help thinking of "Gulf Bay Lovely Resort" as Hicksville. Determined to follow up on the story, Jimm visits the local police station where she overhears a hushed conversation that brings joy to her heart. Now there's not only the mystery of the two skeletons in the VW Kombi to write about, but a dead abbot – brutally stabbed to death whilst wearing a woman's hat.
Colin Cotterill's previous and very successful series set in 1970s Laos and featuring Dr Siri Paiboun, national coroner and reluctant shaman, is a gem of a crime mystery series. Particularly if you like your murder mixed with magical realism which I discover I do. With KILLED AT THE WHIM OF A HAT Cotterill changes characters and location. This time we are in present day Thailand with crime reporter Jimm Juree and her superbly dysfunctional family: body-builder brother Arny, reticent ex-traffic cop Granddad Jah, and the beautifully enigmatic and slightly demented mother, Mair. Not to forget the one who stayed behind in Chiang Mai, Sissi - born a brother, now a sister, holed up in her flat and living her life and scams on-line.
Cotterill's books have been likened to Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana-set crime stories. I'm not so sure. But if you want an even crazier comparison, how about Jimm Juree and Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. Wisecracking Stephanie, the New Jersey bounty hunter, also operates within the over-caring bosom of a somewhat colourful and memorable family. Evanovich's Trenton is as much a small world as is Gulf Bay, for there too everybody knows everybody - and people talk. Jimm Juree is also as wily and determined as Plum, but considerably less accident prone, rather more chaste, and a deal more prickly. But, Stephanie Plum always gets her man and Jimm Juree always gets her story.
I enjoyed reading KILLED AT THE WHIM OF A HAT. It is a compassionate and funny crime mystery, just a bit dark around the edges, and well wise to the ways of the world. I really hope there will be more stories to come for Jimm Juree.
Read another review of KILLED AT THE WHIM OF A HAT.
Lynn Harvey, England