Monday, July 25, 2011

KILLED AT THE WHIM OF A HAT by Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill’s Killed at the Whim of a Hat has to be the strangest mystery novel I ever finished reading.

I had to take the book with a grain of salt.

To begin with, except for the first few pages, the mystery story doesn’t start until about one-quarter of the way in. 

Each chapter leads off with a garbled quote from George W. Bush.  (More about those later.)

Our hero Jimm Juree moves from her respectable more-urban community in Thailand to a decrepit village.  Her apparently-demented mother sells their little store and buys a rundown resort in an out-of-the-way rural area.

Jimm tries to resuscitate her previous career as a “crime reporter” for a local newspaper by horning in on two crimes—the death of two skeletonized young people who are found buried in an old VW, and the murder of the Abbott who came to the local Buddhist temple to investigate the Abbot in charge there.

Cotterill fills the book with wonderful characters.  Jimm’s mother is strong and determined.  When someone poisons her dog, Jimm’s mother puts herself and a hired private detective on the case.

Jimm’s grandfather, who has been mostly silent so far in his life, takes on both cases with Jimm.  He is a former policeman of the traffic-directing type (because he is too honest to have risen higher in the corrupt police force), but now we find he is both brilliant at solving mysteries and able to speak.

Jimm works with a gay policeman who seems to know everything happening in the community except for what Jimm’s grandfather knows.

Jimm’s sister is her brother who has had a sex-change operation.  He is a computer genius whose knowledge of the Internet helps break the case.

And Jimm herself works out what she wants for her life, what she values.  That part is interesting.

Cotterill fills the book with humor, mostly not tacked-on humor, but humor that arises from the people and the stories.

So that brings me to George W. Bush.  Jimm took a speech course once.  She had to analyze the qualities of a great speaker whose name she and other members of the class pulled out of a hat.  Jimm got George W. Bush.  So she collected quotes like—

“I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.”

“First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren’t necessarily killers.  Just because you happen to be not rich doesn’t mean you’re willing to kill.”

Those quotes head each chapter.  The book’s title comes from a GW Bush quote—

“Free societies are hopeful societies.  And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat.”

I don't cite those quotes to offend anyone.  I wasn't huge fan of GW Bush, but I always figured his fractured syntax and malapropisms were the kind of errors anyone who speaks off-the-cuff sometimes makes .  I was a minister.  I talked a lot.  I know about those kinds of mistakes.  But it didn't seem fair to tell you about the quotes without giving you some sense of what they are.

By and large I write this blog for myself.  Over the years, I’ve become aware that some of the few who read the blog take what I write semi-seriously.  Once in a while, someone reads a book  I recommend. 

Now I try to write my comments in such a way that others get a sense of whether or not they would like the book.

I liked this book, but others might not.  It wanders.  There are places where I skimmed just to get through slow action.  And it is as much a personal story as it is a mystery story.  It has wonderful characters, creative humor, and some strong plot elements.

I would highly recommend Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri mysteries, but with this book, I’d say, “Don’t read this expecting the same kind of thing as Dr. Siri.”

With that said, I’m glad I found Jimm Juree.

I’d make one other comment.  The book seemed loosely edited and revised.  I thought that was confirmed when a clue, a Nikon camera, changed to a Canon camera later in the text. 

I bought an electronic edition of the book.  Perhaps the printed copies came later and didn’t have that little error. 


Sam said...

I read a Jimm Juree short story at and liked the character's voice so much, I had to get this book. I'm reading it aloud to my wife. That's difficult in places because some passages make me laugh so hard I can't speak.

Joe Barone said...

I'm glad you liked it. I will read the next one too.