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Killed at the Whim of a Hat
Jour-Jimm Juree series, No 1
Colin Cotterill

Minotaur Books
2011 / ISBN: 9780312564537
Female Crime Reporter / Thailand / 1980 / Contemporary

Reviewed by LJ Roberts

First Sentence: Old Mel hired one of Da’s nephews—the slow-witted one with the dent in his forehead—to sink a well in his back acre.

Jimm Juree is a crime reporter with aspirations for greatness until her mother announces the family is moving to rural Southern Thailand and she fears her reporting days are over. Not when a 1972 VW camper is found buried with the driver and passenger still in place and no apparent cause of death immediately evident. Additionally, a Buddhist monk, inexplicably wearing an orange hat, is brutally murdered. Life in the south isn’t nearly as dull as Jimm feared it would be.

The first book in a new series by Cotterill greets you with a fascinating and effective opening which catches you off-guard when it changes gears. The author’s trademark wry humor is very much in evidence…”Shot four times in the face over a period of twenty minutes? Don’t rule out suicide.”…”Like Scotch whiskies, bougainvilleas were at their happiest without water.” Cotterill has such a wonderful way with language—wonderful similes--one finds oneself going back and re-reading passages; not due to lack of understanding, but for the pure pleasure of re-reading the line or contemplating the concept created by it.

His very visual use of language makes every sentence a pleasure to read. For that, however, there is a surprising lack of sense of place. It all felt quite Westernized and, what description was provided, would not inspire one to want to visit there.

Jimm and her family may take a while for one to warm to, but there are layers there not apparent at first glance. They are not, by any means, your average family, but they are well developed and sincere on their own and in their relationship to each other. By the end of the book, one can’t help wanting to visit them again and know them better.

There are references to Western culture offset against Buddhist philosophy. Cotterill opens every chapter with a quote (gaffe) from George W. Bush. While some might be offended by these, they are actual quotes and do have a tie-in to the story, particularly the title.

At the beginning, one could mistake the plot as being quite cozy. However, halfway through the story becomes much darker and shows a side of human we would prefer not to acknowledge. The plot was the weak spot of the book. It did seem to take a back seat to the characters; it wandered and bogged down at times. The resolution of both cases was not, perhaps, what die-hard mystery fans would have preferred but it did suit the characters and the book.

It’s impossible not to compare this book to Cotterill’s other series with Dr. Siri. There, you felt Cotterill has real affection for his characters; that feeling is not conveyed here. This seems more an exercise in seeing how unusual and dysfunctional one can make characters and still have readers read them.

Killed at the Whim of a Hat is an interesting new direction for Mr. Cotterill but lacks the charm, thoughtfulness or gentle philosophy of his other series. It was readable, but not completely enjoyable.

Reviewed 2011
© 2011