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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach, by Colin Cotterill (hardcover, $24.99)

Colin Cotterill is a rare author who can combine humor and tragedy and not make it sound awkward or forced. Following the superb "Killed at the Whim of a Hat," the first Jimm Juree adventure, "Grandad" is even better. Funnier, sadder, wiser.

This will catch you up with the story so far. Jimm Juree's mother got it into her noggin to uproot the family from Chiang Mai, where Jimm was a nop-notch reporter, to a backwater coastal village. Her brother Arny, the bodybuilder, and Grandpa Jah, a retired traffic police officer, were also forced into exile. Only her oldest brother/sister, Sissi, managed to stand her ground.

Jimm has made a few friends, including gay police officer Chom, in the village, and her mother, Mari, has made many. Arny, at the age of thirty-something, has found his first girlfriend, Gaew, another bodybuilder. Grandpa Jah never made it out of the traffic department because he was too honest and refused to take bribes, de rigueur for advancement. However tenuous the accomplishment, he and Jimm seem to have cornered the market on the family's claim to normalcy. And after Sissi, a transgendered computer geek and beauty queen, talks Jimm into taking a pharmaceutical trial course of anti-depressants for money, Grandpa seems to stand alone.

Although "Grandad" veers off into Wackyville on every page, Cotterill retains a very human and warm sensibility. He doesn't tangle the story up in fancy language and never obfuscates when he needs to elucidate. Jimm is the narrator and her voice is clear as a slightly-cracked bell.

There are many mysteries to solve this time.

Two women, obviously from a higher class than Jimm and her family currently inhabit, take a cabin at Jimm's family's seaside resort -- a loose term, since the sea is often not beside but IN the resort during monsoon season. They are scared and running from something. 

Then there is the titular head that Jimm's dog finds on the beach.

The head appears to belong to a Burmese man. Burmese people are the underclass of Thai society. Many are there illegally, but even a legitimate work permit holds no sway when Burmese workers begin to disappear. Jimm is disgusted with her country's attitude towards the workers, who are treated like slaves, and she is determined to discover how the man's head wound up on her beach. Cotterill buries this very serious issue within his entertaining book, a tactic he uses in his Dr. Siri series as well. It's a bitter pill wrapped up in a savory treat, and it gets the message across.

Kudos to Colin Cotterill, and I am pleased to award the last MBTB star to this book.

I laughed. I cried. I hiccupped.

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