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KILLED AT THE WHIM OF A HAT


By Colin Cotterill

Minotaur Books, 2011 ($24.99)

ISBN: 978-0-312-56453-7
Kindle eBook: $11.99

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Journalist Jimm Juree is one heartbeat away from becoming the head writer on the Chiang Mai Daily Mail's crime desk. She's covered some spectacular stories, and even though the editor always dumbs down her marvelous prose, the articles are still award-worthy. Her career has no way to go but up, until the day it all comes crashing down.

Jimm's personal life is less satisfying then her job. She's thirty-four, divorced, dumpy and fashion-challenged, and she still lives with her mother. The household includes Jimm's Granddad Jah, who served for forty years in the police force, all of them in the traffic detail, her younger brother Arny, a shy, apparently asexual body builder on the verge of the big time, and older sister Sissi, who used to be her older brother before he changed his name and his style, taking the transgender world by storm. Now she is a bitter, aging former beauty queen who refuses to leave the house except under cover of night. They each do their own thing, five people living separate lives under one roof.

Mair has been showing signs of dementia, but the family have no idea how far gone she is until she calmly announces that she's sold their shop and bought a resort hotel, sight unseen, in southern Thailand. The family is in shock, but the deed is signed, sealed and delivered. Mair tells them she is perfectly capable of running the place herself, but familial duty still counts for something. Sissi stays in Chiang Mai, where she uses her computer skills to earn a semi-legal living.

Fast forward nine months. The Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant, located in the town of Mapro (Coconut) in the Chumphon Province was not much to begin with, and things haven't improved much. Mair presides over the shop, which contains mostly ancient, stale, useless products. In her spare time she has become the Mother Theresa of abandoned dogs. The cottages are dismal, not that there are any customers to complain. Jimm spends her days gutting mackerel, wishing for a juicy murder or two. She goes to great lengths to avoid the romantic overtures of the local fishermen, who do not meet even her low standards. Arny keeps his competitive edge by rolling logs, but there's no place to compete. Granddad Jah sits in silence, watching the traffic roll by. His job is a lot easier in Mapro than it was in Chiang Mai, since there's not all that much traffic to watch. The change of location has not brought the family any closer, and the money's running out.

Then, happy day, Jimm catches a break. A farmer digging a well near the town uncovers a perfectly preserved Volkswagen Kombri camper van, complete with two imperfectly preserved occupants. The local police and everybody for miles around come out to see this wonder, and Jimm represents herself as a reporter for the Chiang Mai Daily Mail, neglecting to mention her press card has expired and that she lives just down the road. The Pak Nam police, envisioning their names in the headlines, allow her access to the crime scene and give her insider information.

When it rains in Thailand, it pours. Another body shows up, a fresh one this time. Jimm weasels her way into the investigation of the murder of an abbot at Wat Feuang Fa. He had come to the temple to investigate a report of an improper relationship between the local monk and the resident nun, but before he can complete his assignment he is savagely stabbed and left to die on the temple path. There is one incongruous note: he is wearing a jaunty orange hat.

Jimm's deception is revealed, and the head of the police force is miffed both because of her misrepresentation of her status and because she abandoned him at what he'd planned to be a cozy, private after-lunch "interview," causing him much loss of face. When her stories and photos start showing up in the press, he decides he can overlook her rude behavior. She and the openly gay police Lt. Chompu hit it off and become partners in crime solving. Jimm discovers Granddad has hidden talents, and he discovers there's more to life than watching cars go by. Sissi's computer hacking skills and her world-wide internet contacts prove invaluable. Crimes are solved, corruption is revealed, lovers are allowed to continue to love, and a good time is had by most.

This is the first in the author's new series. Fans of his Dr. Siri books will find it, on the surface, to be much different, but the basics that make Cotterill's writing so intriguing and entertaining are there. The endearing, quirky characters and their interactions are at the heart of every story. The settings are exotic, each in their own way, and the mysteries are equally challenging. The humor is ever present, lightening a dark mood or just providing some comic relief. The title of the book is a variation of a line George W. Bush once uttered, and each chapter begins with one of his memorable quotes. There is a logical explanation for this, but I will leave that for the reader to discover.

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