Nothing much happens for eight months until a VW kombi van with two presumably hippie skeletons from the seventies on the front seat is found buried several feet under a palm oil plantation while the plantation owner is digging a well (or, more accurately, having one dug).

Hearing about the find, Jimm cycles over to the scene, where she notices the long dead driver is sitting upright at the wheel wearing a hat. Unsurprisingly given her profession and the circumstances in which she’s landed Jimm decides to follow the story, and visits the police station to get her the inside story of the investigation, befriending Lieutenant Chompu, the Mariah Carey-singing, nail-polish-wearing gay pofficer from the local station (Chompu translates as pink). 

On her way out of the station Jimm overhears part of a furtive conversation between the desk Sergeant and station supervisor Major Mana about a crime so sensitive there’s a news blackout on the story. After the Major leaves, she manages to convince the Sergeant she knows about the case, and gets the gory details.

A visiting abbot at the Feuang Fa temple, has been murdered. Since the victim was a member of the ecclesiastical version of the Anti-Corrupion Commission, sent to investigate the local abbot’s alleged inappropriate relationship with a nun there are a pair of obvious suspects, though Jimm refuses to go with the obvious explanation. There’s obviously something else going on since the victim was wearing a bright orange hat with a red flower.

Lurking in Jimm’s background is a Masters degree, where the course work includes a strand called Public Oration and Oral Improvisation (Pooi for short) where she was required to undertake an analysis of George W. Bush’s idiosyncratic approach to oratory, explains the presence of a Dubya malapropism at the top of each chapter and prompts Jimm to remark If nothing else, my analysis of George W’s oratory style had taught me that a sincere countenance and a confident stance were sufficient to distract your audience from the fact that you were talking rubbish.

There are a couple of places in the course of her investigation where she’s put into a position where she has to do just that as she attempts to unravel the details of the two cases, aided by Granddad Jah and Lieutenant Chompu. Along the way she gets in a string of snarky jibes about her non-existent love life, the local lifestyle and mores, and the travails of her rural existence.

It soon becomes apparent that someone with a great deal of influence is lurking in the background, but thanks to the assistance she gets from  her grandfather, who might have been looked over for promotion since he wouldn’t accept bribes, but can call on former colleagues for assistance, and Sissie, who fills the same whiz kid researcher and infiltrator of on-line databases role as Donna Leon’s Signorina Elettra, the bits of the puzzle fall into place in the end.

Admittedly, Killed at the Whim of a Hat took a while to get going, largely due to the number of characters who needed to be introduced, and I needed a while before I was convinced the first person female narrative was a winner, but by the time I was two-thirds of the way through I was happily won over. 

There’s the same quirky wit that’s evident throughout the Dr Siri series, a similar set of offbeat characters whose interactions are at least as important to the book as a whole as the whodunit aspect of the narrative and Cotterill’s still got it when it comes to the wry remark.

“I can tell you that this was either an accident, murder or an act of nature.” The captain was not, however, prepared to rule out suicide.


Shelfari interview

Shots magazine interview

© Ian Hughes 2012