Author Colin Cotterill has penned a new offbeat mystery series, and the first installment kindles in the mind like fireworks that bloom in showers of light. Killed at the Whim of a Hat is one of the most aptly titled books I’ve seen in a long time, and by far the best book I’ve read in an age.
Crime reporter Jimm Juree, recently of Bangkok, is down in the dumps. Her dreams of being promoted to senior crime reporter at Bangkok’s Chiang Mai Mail are dashed after her mother purchases a crumbling tourist resort in the tiny village of Maprao, far afield in southern Thailand, and the family moves, lock, stock and barrel.
Jimm’s bad luck at being in the pit of no-news land seems to change when a visiting abbot at the nearby temple is violently murdered. There’s also an odd skeleton or two, discovered buried deep in mud in a 1970s VW bus. Jimm seems on her way to a breaking news story or three. She gets a lot of help from crafty Lieutenant Chompu of the local police force and from her wondrously odd family. Together they make sense of the bizarre events.
A solid plot runs neck and neck with the plain and simple joy of reading a crackerjack narrative filled with droll humor and small asides that are never throwaways. In the current world of detective novels—where quick comebacks and sarcasm pass for humor and where characters jockey for top position as most snide or most trendy—this stands out as a beautifully crafted look at life with a Thai twist. Thankfully, Cotterill’s characters are so easy to picture they jump right off the page, yet are straight out of the town of whimsy.
Cotterill’s language is musical, with an offbeat cadence. What’s not to like in a book where you can read, of the crime scene: “From the road it didn’t look like anything special but when you got to the top of the dirt track you could clearly see that it really was nothing special.” Or where you can taste beer that “arrived so cold it poured like sleet from the bottle.” This stuff, on nearly every page, boggles the mind.
And I mustn’t forget an unsung hero named Sticky Rice. But you’ll have to read the book yourself to really get the hang of it all.