Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill
Cotterill, author of the unique Dr. Siri series set in Laos and beginning with The Coroner’s Lunch, writes a new series for us. This time he features a youngish Thai female reporter, scouring the southern countryside for crime stories to place in the national newspaper she had to leave behind in Chiang Mai. She has kept her distance from predatory men by declaring herself lesbian, but she is no such thing. In a country where sex and sex changes are advertised, declaring herself homosexual elicits from her family no more than a sigh of regret for the children she will not have.
Cotterill seems to be trying a little harder in this series to channel a young, hip newspaper reporter, but it does make this reader wonder again how he managed to create the incomparable Dr. Siri, who must have been at least as distant in age and background. Two mysteries intertwine in this first book of the new series and both are satisfactorily resolved in the end, though both are so unlikely that they are probably drawn from life. More importantly, Cotterill gives us a group of characters so rich, varied, and full of life that we long to see them again soon.
I listened to the audio of this book, produced by HighBridge audio and read by Jeany Park. Ms. Park’s over-the-top reading gives each of her characters distinctive voices, including one that sent me reaching back in time. If you’ve ever seen the television production of Brideshead Revisited, you will remember a character with an unforgettable speaking voice: Joseph Beattie played the flaming homosexual Anthony Blanche. Ms. Park manages to resurrect that voice for the gay policeman so completely, one is charmed. Add to that our main character’s transvestite sister, a mother with Alzheimer’s, a body-building brother, and a set of Buddhists. But my favorite character might still be the wily old granddad. He barely had a speaking part, yet managed to see around corners and several steps ahead on resolving a difficult case.
Cotterill has such a deep understanding of Southeast Asia that one is always interested to see which thread he will pick to weave his story. Whichever it is, each story is so infused with the life and culture of his subject country that one feels positively transported. I will always want to read what he comes up with next.
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