First Line: 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.
Young Jimm Juree has the life she wants as a crime reporter for the Chiang Mai Daily Mail, but when her mother suddenly sells the family business, familial obligation means that Jimm follows her mother, grandfather and brother to rural southern Thailand to run a decrepit resort on the coast. How in the world is she ever going to become the first female senior crime reporter in the Chiang Mai Daily Mail's history when she lives all the way out in the sticks?
Running the resort takes up a good portion of her day. Let's face it: she's not getting much help from her family. Her mother, who's showing signs of dementia, spends most of her time either restacking cans in the small giftshop or taking in stray dogs. Her grandfather, a retired traffic cop, scarcely says a word and disappears for long periods of time. Jimm's brother's life revolves around body-building and trying to find a decent gym out in the back of beyond. Only Sissi, Jimm's transgendered, former beauty pageant queen, computer hacker, former older brother had the good sense to stay in the city.
It's only when a van containing the skeletal remains of two hippies is unearthed in a local farmer's field that Jimm knows this is her chance to get back to the city and the life she wants. Then when an abbot at a nearby Buddhist temple is murdered, Jimm knows she's got to solve both crimes.
I love Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri mystery series, which is set in 1970s Laos and features a spry and wily septuagenarian national coroner and a marvelous cast of secondary characters. When I learned that this book was the start of a contemporary series set in Thailand, I thought that Christmas had come early. I still do.
I've read other books set in Thailand. John Burdett's series features a Thai policeman with rather traditional cultural beliefs and values. Timothy Hallinan's Poke Rafferty series has an Anglo writer who's fallen in love with the Thai culture and wants to become a part of it. In Cotterill's book, we get to see Thailand from yet another perspective: that of a young, thoroughly Westernized Thai woman. Each series gives readers a different view of a fascinating country.
Both the crimes in Killed at the Whim of a Hat are puzzlers. Cotterill undoubtedly planted clues throughout the book, but I didn't pick many of them up. Jimm Juree may be an amateur sleuth, but this is not what's usually termed a "cozy" mystery. In particular, the killer of the Buddhist abbot is very depraved and vicious.
But this book is not just about solving mysteries. It's about a young woman coming to grips with what she really wants in life. It's about a young woman who is finally in a situation that makes her really get to know the members of her family. As a mystery, as a glimpse into life in rural Thailand, as a study of human behavior, this is an enjoyable, strong work of fiction-- even though it's not always for the faint-hearted.
It's also not always for those who are easily offended. The book title and chapter headings are all quotes from our former President, George W. Bush. If you're a fan of our 43rd President's eloquence, or if you find it offensive when people in other countries poke some gentle fun at the United States, you may want to pass on this book. All the quotes do tie into the plot, the characters, and the motivations, however.
Of course the immediate comparison for this book is going to be Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series set in Botswana. The only things they really have in common are a light tone, excellent casts of characters, and exotic locations. There is more depth and a more fully developed mystery in Cotterill's book.
I am one very happy reader now that I have both Dr. Siri and Jimm Juree to look forward to.