Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Detective Fiction

Crime fiction is one of the literary genres in which I dip my nose quite regularly.

Recently I was contemplating how varied and wide ranging are the locations and historical eras in which detective fiction is set. You have series of them set in the oddest places, like Nazi Germany in the case of  the Berlin Noir novels of Philip Kerr, Vespasian’s Rome in the Falco series by Lindsey Davis, Bombay in the Inspector Ghote novels of HRF Keating, Amsterdam in Jan Willem van de Wetering’s wonderful Grijpstra and de Gier novels,  Medieval England in Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael Chronicles, and so on.

This train of thought came as a result of a book I received recently for my birthday. It was Killed at the Whim of A Hat by Colin Cotterill, an author I had not previously encountered.


Was I in for a surprise! Killed At The Whim Of A Hat is a delightful book. It’s an unusual crime novel set in Thailand which is where the author resides.

The heroine as described by the author is Jimm Juree…”a feisty Thai lady journalist with relatives that make the Adams family look like  Alexander McCall Smith characters”

Colin Cotterill does write his books in the above tone, so they’re humorous and witty. For instance, there are quotes from George W Bush at beginning of each chapter, which are strangely relevant.

As well as being entertaining, Killed At The Whim Of A Hat is also a first rate crime mystery.

The book was my introduction to the detective fiction of Colin Cotterill.

Why haven’t I read him before!

Colin Cotterill,  I have discovered, is best known for his Doctor Siri series of detective novels that are set in Laos in the mid 1970s, shortly after the Communist takeover of the country. Dr Siri Paiboun’s investigations start in The Coronor’s Lunch, which of course I hastened to acquire (in ebook format) as soon as I’d finished Killed At The Whim Of A Hat.

cotterill_coroners lunch

When we first meet him in The Coronor’s Lunch, Dr Siri is a 72 year old former communist rebel, who is appointed by the new ruling party as State Coroner because he is the last doctor in Laos. This honour, Dr Siri is none too keen to accept, having a yearning for retirement after years of struggle and hardship in the jungle. However he does assume the responsibilities of the position and undertakes post mortem investigations with the help of his staff of two, an odd pair who are Nurse Dtui, who wishes to advance her learning, and Mr Geung a simple fellow who knows the ropes in the mortuary, despite his mental deficiency.

Dr Siri however is not one to toe the line; he is curious, curmudgeonly and also blessed, or cursed, with an unusual ability to see the dead, who provide him with pointers and clues in his crime investigations.

There are seven books in the Dr Siri series to date, with an eighth to be published later this year, so I intend to read all of them. In fact, they’re addictive. 

I really like Colin Cotterill’s jaunty style, and his ability to create endearing, all too human characters. It’s refreshing to find a novelist with such a light touch. That doesn’t mean there’s no violence or horror within the novels; in fact you get quite a bit of action along with a touch of the supernatural, and cliff hanger chapter endings. Also you learn quite a bit about the history and folk lore of Laos, which I admit I had not previously bothered to inform myself of.

Highly recommended if you like entertaining novels set in unusual locations, or even if you just enjoy a good page turning read.

Also check out Colin Cotterill’s website – it’s great fun and he’s also a talented cartoonist.


Kay McKenzie Cooke said...

Thanks Anne - we are off to Thailand for Christmas this year, so a book (especially a crime novel) set in that country will be great fun to read.

Anne S said...

Highly recommended Kay, I'm sure you'll enjoy it. I'm racing through the Dr Siri series and enjoying them immensely.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I only heard about this author a couple of months ago when my sister in law who, like me doesn't really read crime, recommended The coroner's lunch to my parents because she liked it so much. I don't think my Mum liked it, but I hope to give it a go (one day)

Anne S said...

I'm hanging out for the new Dr Siri novel to be published in December. It'll be downloaded to my Kindle in a flash as soon as it's available.

Hope the subscription thing works.

Anonymous said...

nice idea, thanks for sharing...