Killed at the Whim of a Hat


Colin Cotterill’s latest book has the intriguing title Killed at the Whim of a Hat (ISBN 978-1-84916-552-5, Quercus Books, 2011).

This is a detective novel, with a twist, and begins with the finding of a buried VW Kombi wagon, with two skeletons in the front seats.  One is wearing a hat.

Apparently unconnected, a monk is found dead, having been subject of multiple stab wounds, and photographed, with a camera left containing the evidence.

The reader is taken through all this by a young female journalist Jimm Juree, who spends her time ferreting for information, while using the laxity of the police to give her more opportunities.

The book is definitely set in Thailand, and Cotterill shows that he has a complete understanding of the complex Thai culture, redolent with ‘influential figures’ who drive black Mercedes-Benz cars and think themselves above the law, because of the money they have or positions of power they hold or have held.  And then there is the Chinese family matriarch, which one is advised to stay on the right side of – or not, at your own risk.  Yes, these are such frequent situations in the non-transparent networkings of the Thai society, but very rarely better described within the context of life in the Land of Smiles.

The plot springs along at a brisk pace, as the heroine Jimm, aided by her grandfather attempt to pin down and identify the killer (or killers) and whether male or female.  A besotted Buddhist nun ranks high in the suspect list – or is it purely circumstantial?  You will be kept guessing right to the end, as good detective novels should be.

It is always a delight to read books written by writers with flair and imagination.  Stodgy prose is certainly not Cotterill’s style.  His description of an elderly woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, “I came to realize that this was my mother traveling backwards on a mechanical walkway, passing through time, past huge placards advertising moments from her life.”  Describing a hospital, “The outpatients area was ablaze with color: the dull yellow of hepatitis, the scarlets and crimsons of recent motorcycle accidents, the mauve of football injuries, the pale greens of food-poisoning and the various shades of pink from pregnancy right through the color chart to the weak pallor of anemia.”

Kudos for the Chiang Mai Mail where a subject states, “The Chiang Mai Mail taught you ethics.”  Perhaps we should have checked to see if Jimm Juree worked for the northern capital’s English language newspaper.

At B. 585 this is a well worthwhile read.  You will be entertained, educated and your sleuthing instincts primed.  I enjoyed this book very much.

By the way, if you are wondering about the rather quaint title, with its fractured English, author Cotterill assures the reader that these were the words spoken by American past president George W Bush, famous for his Malapropisms, quoting from George Dubbya’s speech in Washington in 2004, “…free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat.”