Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Killed at the Whim of a Hat, by Colin Cotterill ($24.99)(release date-7/19/11)

Here's another great book by Colin Cotterill, this one set in modern day Thailand. Cotterill keeps and expands upon the gentle humor he focused on 1970s Laos in his Siri Paiboun series. This time he aims it at the cultural eccentricities of rural Thailand.

Sounding more like a line from Mary Poppins' "Chim Chiminey" than the name of a former hotshot crime reporter for a Chiang Mai daily, Jimm Juree has relocated from the big city to a rural agricultural and seafaring backwater in southern Thailand. Her mother, Mair, supposedly diagnosed with the early stages of dementia, has sold their home and replanted daughter Juree, son Arny, and father Jah to the village of Maprao to run a resort on the beach. Which is not as exotic as it sounds. Run down is how it is, with carnivorous crabs, nosy neighbors, brown-outs, and dead bodies. Tired of gutting mackerel for the non-existent guests and her unappreciative family, Juree rejoices (quietly) at the dead bodies and the possibility of reporting these cases for her former employer.

By accident, palm tree farmer Old Mel has found a VW bus buried on his property. In the front seats are two skeletons. Since the local police force, with the exception of Lt. Chompu, an in-the-closet, nail-polish-wearing gay, is flummoxed and a more elaborate investigation is compromised by national political unrest, Juree becomes the best hope for a solution.

A fresher body is found at the local Buddhist monastery. A visiting investigating abbott is maliciously stabbed to death right on a highly visible part of the monastery's premises. The abbott was looking into a possible impropriety in the relationship between the monastery's abbott and a nun, a recent addition to the cloister. The murdered abbott was found wearing a strange orange hat.

No one is exempt from eccentricities. Even Sissi, Juree's sibling who stayed behind in Chiang Mai, has an odd story of her own. She began life as a he, found fame as a beauty queen, eloped with a suitor, returned to the bosom of her family a little older and wiser, and now is a first-class computer hacker.

Brother Arny is a buffed-up bodybuilder with a no tolerance for violence or confrontation. When Mair's dog is poisoned by someone in the village, Mair becomes suspiciously furtive, flitting around like a ninja in the night. Grandfather Jah used to be a traffic cop. He would have been more important, but his honesty doomed him to a minor position. He comes out of his stupor when Juree seeks his help to find and solve the clues.

It is this little family and the odd connections Juree makes in the course of following the two stories that provide the primary entertainment. In fact, the actual solution to one of the stories was a little shocking in contrast to the general tone of the rest of the book.

It's hard to give Cotterill his due without quoting some passages. His narrator is Juree:
We'd moved to a village surrounded by coconut groves called Maprao. That means 'coconut.' We're in the middle of a bay called Glang Ow, which means 'middle of the bay' and our nearest small town is at the mouth of a river. It's called Pak Nam. I probably don't need to translate that one for you.
And then:
'…I think it's good for [Mair] down here. She's crazy about her dogs and we've got the ocean right here and … you know.'
'I've got people dying down here.'
'No. Murder. …'
And lastly:
'Unbelievable,' [Chompu] said. 'You wouldn't believe how dull life was in Pak Nam before you lot arrived.'

I wondered at that moment whether he might be considering us suspects. Odd family turns up in town -- bodies everywhere. But I got the impression he wouldn't have minded that either.'
From start to unorthodox finish, this book was a joy.

P.S. Each chapter begins with a quote from a speech by George W. Bush. The title of the book derives from a "Bush-ism" in one of those speeches.

No comments:

Post a Comment