2012-Killed at the Whim of a Hat

Killed at the Whim of a Hat, by Colin Cotterill ($24.99)

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

Sounding more like a song from Mary Poppins than the name of a former hotshot crime reporter for a Chaing Mai daily, Jim Juree has relocated to an agricultural and seafaring backwater in southern Thailand. Her mother, Mair, supposedly diagnosed with the early stages of dementia, has sold their home and relocated daughter Juree, son Arny, and father Jah to the village of Maprao to manage a rundown resort on the beach. Tired of gutting mackerel for the non-existent guests, dodging carnivorous crabs and nosy neighbors, and putting up with brown-outs, Juree almost welcomes the dead bodies that have popped up. This may be her ticket back to the big time.

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 newer victim 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.

Juree's family is decidedly odd. 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 no desire 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.

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.

-- Barbara