Angie's Reviews > Killed at the Whim of a Hat

Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill
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's review
Jun 12, 2011

really liked it

Jimm Juree is enjoying a promising career as a crime reporter in the bustling northern Thai city of Chiang Mai when her mother suddenly buys a small resort in a rural area of southern Thailand and moves her thoroughly unenthusiastic family to Maprao, where Jimm’s senses are assaulted by the “constant smell of drying squid”, the “thud of coconuts falling from trees in search of a head”, and “a shallow sea so warm it breeds Jurassic life forms”. After eight months of this idyll, Jimm’s life picks up significantly when a VW van containing the skeletons of two hippies from the 70s is unearthed on a local farm and a Buddhist abbot is brutally murdered wearing an orange hat with a flower. Sensing a reportorial scoop, Jimm enthusiastically pursues both of these cases with help from her retired-traffic-cop Granddad Jah and gay police Lieutenant Chompu.
This is simply a delightful book. As Jimm puts together the solution to both these mysteries, the reader is introduced to many aspects of Thai society. Cotterill lives in Thailand, so I am confident the atmosphere is authentic, allowing for some literary license. The clever writing and situations gave me plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (I even laughed at the Acknowledgments!), and the plot kept moving. The colorful, well-developed characters are one of the big strengths of the book, but the quirkiness of the cast does not preclude some real warmth and moments of genuine emotion. I was especially moved by Jimm’s grief over the death of a family dog and both amused and heartened by Jimm’s mother’s actions in response to the death.
I agree with others that comparing Killed at the Whim of a Hat to the Botswana books of Alexander McCall Smith is not apt. Both series feature an exotic setting, light tone, and colorful characters, but Coterill’s book has more depth and a more fully developed mystery plot. Actually, Jimm Juree reminds me more of Stephanie Plum, complete with a grandparent sidekick, than of Precious Ramotswe.
Books like Killed at the Whim of a Hat are by their nature somewhat outrageous, and knowing where to draw the line is a matter of skill and taste. Colorful characters are great, but Jimm’s former brother Sissi, a trans-gender beauty queen who makes his living via illegal internet activities, is too much for me. Worse, the depravity shown by one of the murderers truly disgusted me. The book’s title and quotes at the beginning of each chapter are all mixed metaphors, malapropisms, and just plain slips of the tongue by former president George W Bush, and these could be offensive , especially from a non-American, but there is a plausible connection within the book that assuaged my annoyance.
The excesses were sufficient that I almost stopped reading about 40 pages into the book, but a friend’s enthusiasm for Cotterill’s Dr Siri series kept me going, and I now have a new author and two new series to enjoy and to recommend.

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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Kay (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kay I read the first three books in this offbeat series and really liked them a lot!

Angie With Kay's positive comment as an incentive, perhaps I'll continue. The opening was rather off-putting. These characters are perhaps TOO "over the top" for me, e,g,. a transgender former male who went on to become a beauty queen? And each chapter begins with an appropriate but very ignorant quote from George W. Bush e.g., "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream". It is one thing for US to make fun of our leaders, but a very different thing for foreigners to do it. I feel I am in the presence of a very clever, talented writer who is just not to my taste.

message 3: by Kay (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kay This sounds nothing at all like the series I loved, which was set in Communist-run Laos, and whose detective is the official coroner, the ONLY doctor in the country at the time. His ability to outwit the Communist bureaucracy, along with great insights into the traditional culture, were fascinating. The first book in the series, The Coroner's Lunch, was widely praised.

Angie Killed by the Whim of a Hat is the first of a planned new series set in Thailand, which is where Cotterill lives, and featuring a former crime reporter and her very eccentric family.

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