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Author of the Month

Name: Colin Cotterill

First Novel: The Coroner's Lunch

Most Recent Book: Killed at the Whim of a Hat

'I suggest you plunge in and give this novel a read Ė you will be entertained and uplifted.'

Synopsis:
Jimm Juree feels her life as a crime reporter is over when forced to move with her family to a quiet fishing village on the Gulf of Siam where nothing happens and everyone is friendly. That is until a VW camper van is unearthed during the excavation of a well. Inside are two corpses who appear to have been buried alive decades ago.

Then an eminent monk is savagely murdered at a local monastery. Another monk who was being investigated is the prime suspect but there seems to Jimm a tone to the murder that doesnít fit a killing of rage. Why were the monastery dogs heard barking at the scene of the crime and why does the solution to the case weigh merely on the whim of a hat?

Review:
Colin Cotterill, well known for his Dr. Siri series strikes out with a new set of characters. Jimm Juree is a young woman who feels she has not reached her full potential and although she can hold her own when using her investigative resources, is not exactly on the ball when it comes to men and dating. That is left to her mother, Mair who spends half her time in another dimension, what is usually referred to as Ďliving with the fairiesí. Now and again Mair will come out with a risquť story from her past. What Jimm would love to hear more about is her father who is nothing more than a phantom. I am hopeful that Cotterill will expand the father figure more in future books.

With Grandad Jah who was a traffic policeman until the day he retired because he wouldnít take bribes, Arny, an emotional body builder and Sissi, a transsexual brother/sister who lives her life through the Internet, you know that this story is going to be shot through with very quirky humour indeed! And indeed, there is humour aplenty!

However, despite the fun, this doesnít detract from the main plots of the camper van and murdered Monk investigations. Cotterill leads Jimm through the male orientated police force and finds her the perfect partner in crime in the form of a very camp policeman who I instantly fell in love with and who had all the best lines. It seemed amazing that Chompu is overtly camp and yet none of his colleagues, (all detectives, mind!) hadnít found out his (very badly kept) secret. The fact he sings along with the likes of Kylie and Mariah Carey would be a big giveaway! I am looking forward to Chompuís next appearance.

I enjoyed my time spent with this antiquated family and the book flowed beautifully. You can tell that Cotterill loves his adopted homeland, warts and all and takes an ironic view at some of the darker parts. This is an enchanting read from a very good writer who knows how to give his characters Ďheartí. I admit ĎKilled at the Whim of a Hat is not my usual fare which makes this review all the more relevant when I suggest you plunge in and give this novel a read Ė you will be entertained and uplifted: a feel good novel that will put a smile on your face Ė something we all need during these trying times!!!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
The house is burning down around you. A sink hole has appeared in your back garden and is sucking your wife and dogs down into a bottomless pit. A full 747 has lost control and is headed directly for your front windowÖbut you just have to finish this chapter before you do anything about it. Itís when the world youíre living in doesnít matter nearly as much as the thriller youíre reading.
2) Are you surprised by the diversity of the crime genre? Do you think crime readers are always open to different styles?
Iím not at all surprised. New writers today wouldnít get a look in if they churned out the same stuff that has been Ďacceptedí crime fiction for a century. You have to be different in some way to be published. I imagine twenty years ago when there were rules of engagement for the crime writer, readers were more likely to revolt if the writer broke those rules. But thereís a more global feel now. People donít huff and say, ĎLaos? Just one of those Asian places nobody goes to.í Thereís an awareness of the world amongst readers, a real thirst for knowledge of places outside their own country. Once those barriers come down I donít believe there are any no-go areas. Your protagonist can be a Chinese/Mexican lesbian dwarf (Eric Stone) or a 74-year-old Lao coroner.
3) You live in Thailand now. How did you get to lay your roots in this country?
Are you sitting comfortably? Then Iíll begin. It all started when I was in Australia completing the research for my Masters. I met a doctor with MSF who told me about a minority group in Burma called the Karenni. They wanted someone to train their teachers and write a curriculum for their school. I went up there and started work only to get bombed out by the Burmese junta dry season offensive. I took shelter in Thailand waiting for things to settle. Things didnít settle. I took a job at the university in Chiang Mai and Iíve been in the region ever since. Itís home now and I feel more comfortable in Southeast Asia than I do back in England.
4) You have written several novels about Dr. Siri. Why have you decided to write a new series?
In my Lao series Iím at the stage now where writing a new book is like an editorial meeting with Siri and Nurse Dtui, and Inspector Phosy and naked Crazy Rajid and the others all sitting around the table discussing the next book over a cup of coffee. These days I can barely get a word in. Theyíve taken over. All I have to do is put them in a new plot and off they go. So, with the Dr. Siri series writing itself I needed a new challenge. Contemporary. No ghosts. Lite on politics. In fact I wondered whether I could hit a completely different demographic. Dr. Siri has a lot of fans Ďof a certain ageí who send him fan mail so heís not going anywhere. But I needed a holiday in a different time and place to keep me fresh.
5) Your new series stars Jimm Juree, a female crime reporter. What attracted you to this new character?
I had to keep in mind the fact that my new protagonist was going to be compared to Dr. Siri. I needed a strong character who could match up to him in her own way, with her own strengths. Weíd just moved down to a little fishing village on the gulf of Thailand. Here, a woman is a wife and a homemaker (and generally spends a lot of time scaling fish and building squid traps.) I decided on Jimm for a number of reasons but specifically because she was a successful reporter who had been wrenched from her career in the city and thrown into a setting that she considers prehistoric. Iíd interviewed a lot of candidates for the role but Jimm had all the fire and intelligence and faults Iíd been looking for. There are stereotypes around the world about Thai women, most of them negative. I wanted a character who could represent the modern Thai educated woman you rarely read about in fiction. And, through Jimmís eyes and experiences I could show the wily ways of the rural female. If Siri is my elderly-power series, Jimm is my womenís lib book.
6) Jimmís family could be classed as Ďeccentricí. With a mother who seems to have her head in the clouds and a transsexual brother. Do you enjoy infusing your crime novels with humour?
Iíd always planned the Jimm books to be ensemble company rather than a vehicle for one star. As a cartoonist, characters are my strongpoint and I need a good cast to carry the stories. But I have to be careful not to caricature them to the point of ridiculousness. I took characters youíd often find in English language books about Thailand: the pretty transvestite, the corrupt policeman, the pumped-up body builder, the ambitious news reporter, and I played the Ďwhat if?í. What if the transvestite beauty queen aged twenty years and was ashamed to be seen in public? What if there was a cop who never took a bribe in forty years and retired broke and at the same rank heíd started at? What if the body builder was so shy and cowardly that he burst into tears at the first sign of violence? And what if our crime reporter was dragged from the dangers and thrills in the city and plopped down in a place thatís so safe and uneventful the local police station doesnít even have a cell. I love making people laugh and if the characters can do that without the need for one-liners and slapstick, that makes my job a lot easier.
7) You seem to have an ironic view of the ways of the country. Do you feel as an Ďalien abroadí that you can stand outside looking in?
There are expatriates in Thailand who have lived here twenty years and not seen anything but the insides of bars and Pizza Hut. So just being an alien doesnít necessarily make you innately equipped to look in at society. Perhaps thatís why there are so many books written about the inside of bars and Pizza Hut. You write what you know which in turn explains the abundance of literature about prostitutes and drunkenness. I lived in England for the first twenty-one years of my life and I doubt whether I really saw or understood anything. Everything was just there. I was just there. I had no need to observe. I think itís something else that makes you inquisitive. Perhaps itís a writerís mind. Maybe thatís why Bill Bryson in Notes From a Small Island saw an England I didnít realize existed. I didnít experience that England until I returned home after twenty years away and looked at the place with my writerís mind. I think itís the decision that you make to observe rather than to rewrite what youíve read or seen on TV that gives you the ability to look in.
8) All the chapter headings begin with some of George W. Bushís more famous and toe curling quotes. What is the fascination with the ex-President and his infamous pearls of wisdom?
George W was almost responsible for me not getting together with the woman who became my wife. I was in Chiang Mai and miserable after four years of GW screwing up the planet and I couldnít believe there was a possibility heíd get re-elected. So as I sat alone and drunk on the night the results were coming through I considered throwing myself out the window. I was on the ground floor so the worst I could have done was to have broken a few hibiscus bushes. It was late and all down to Florida and my tearful viewing of CNN was interrupted by an incoming email from a pretty teacher who wanted advice on some teaching point. Didnít she realize what was happening to the world? Didnít she realize there would probably be no need for education if GW got re-elected? It obviously hadnít worked in America. How irresponsible was this woman? I might have been rude in my reply. In fact in the light of morning I might have even forgotten Iíd sent it. She didnít. But, to her credit, she forgave me.
9) Your books have multiple cases like the Dalziel and Pascoe novels (you investigate the bodies in the camper van and the death of a monk in your latest). Do you enjoy weaving different cases for your readers?
Yeah I suppose I do weave for the readers, but I weave even more for me. I have the attention span of a thrush. My mindís always shooting off in different directions wondering what would happen if I tried this or that. I invariably find myself with four or five plot threads going at the same time as I near the end of the book. Iíll ether abandon them myself when I canít work out an ending, or Iíll be politely bullied by my editor to ĎGet rid of the mysterious guy in the Indian headdress.í I canít imagine writing a book with just the one storyline. Iíd be bored to distraction after two chapters.
10) How did you feel winning the acclaimed CWA Dagger in the Library for a body of work
As I said at the awards ceremony, the great thing about the Dagger in the Library is that it isnít about who you know. Thatís just as well Ďcos I donít know anyone. It has everything and all to do with what you produce. And thereís a warm and fuzzy feeling that accompanies being recognized not for one book (you can get lucky with the one and never be able to repeat it) but for an entire series. It means Iíve not disappointed my readers. Iím very proud of that. And if all those library readers go out and buy Ė with actual money - just one of my books Iíll be even prouder.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of all time of a crime/thriller novel?
'Silence of the Lambs'.
12) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
I have to answer these two questions with the same book. You see, Iím not much of a fiction reader. I have very little experience of having read a book that became a film. I love cinema although the nearest English language cinema from here is four hoursí drive away. I have seen thousands of movies that were adapted from novels but not read the novels. But I did have one moving experience. Iíd seen The Silence of the Lambs at the cinema and it scared the bejeabers out of me. Then I was in bed with Dengue fever once and the only book in English in the house was Thomas Harrisí The Silence of the Lambs. Ho hum, I thought. How exciting can a book be after you know what happens? But I started that book and I was shaking for half of it. It did a marvellous job of keeping me on the edge of my bed. The film was a fair adaptation but the book did it better. As I lay there, the house burnt down, the dogs were sucked into a sink hole and a 747 crashed through the front window and I had no suspicion whatsoever.