Colin Cotterill is something of a polymath: he's worked for UNESCO, combatted child exploitation, produced a television series, drawn editorial cartoons, and written a successful mystery series. You may not know him, however, unless you keep close tabs on southeast Asia, where he's lived and worked for two decades, and where his previous mystery novels, the Dr. Siri Paboun series, have been set. His new book, Killed at the Whim of a Hat, finds him writing a bit closer to his adopted home, Thailand, with an all-new protagonist, the crime journalist Jimm Juree. It's a twist on the cozy mystery genre: Jimm Juree finds herself trapped in a small Thai resort town with nothing to do except care for her capricious mother, when someone suddenly drops dead and she is the most qualified person to take up the investigation. Colin Cotterill knows his stuff: he's got the deft touch of a veteran mystery writer, of course, but he also shows the reader a side of Thailand that gets glossed over in the travel brochures, and adds a dose of expatriate cynicism/wisdom -- look for the George W. Bush quotations that open every chapter, and that give the book its name. Over e-mail, we asked Colin a few questions about his new book:
Q: Tell us about Jimm Juree, the hero of Killed at the Whim of a Hat.
A: Jimm is a thirty-four-year old Thai woman who was one small kidney failure away from the chief crime reporter’s desk at the Chiang Mai Mail. But as she waited for her boss to croak, her demented mother sold the family home and announced she would be moving to a beaten up resort in the south of Thailand. While southerners fled north to avoid the ethnic violence and uncertainty, mother was headed south. Jimm really had no choice but to accompany her. With her went younger brother Arny the wimpy body builder and Granddad Jah who had spent forty years in the Royal Thai police force and not made it out of the traffic department.
The Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant is on an untidy little beach in Chumphon and Jimm hates everything about it. She hates the pace of life, the lack of facilities and the fact that there’s really nothing to do there after dark. She hates the close proximity to ‘nature and wildlife’ and, as a crime reporter, the fact that there’s apparently no crime. She hates the resort with its five, usually vacant cabins, the shop with so little stock the goods are spaced out like museum pieces, and the fact that she drew the short straw and has to do all the fish gutting and cooking. But perhaps most depressing is the fact that she’s in a place where the chances of finding a suitable mate are negligible.
All seems hopeless for Jimm until fate steps in and sends her the answer to her prayers: bodies. What joy. At last there is something to write about other than traffic accidents and monsoon flooding statistics. And through the investigation, Jimm enters a hidden world where big city skills don’t carry any weight at all.