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.
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.
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.