Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach

Note: if you haven’t been following Mysterious Orientations closely for the past several days, it will probably make a lot more sense to you to start with the post dated January 22, 2013, titled “The Bruce Tierney/Colin Cotterill Saga Continues”; that way, you won’t have to skip back and forth to see who is who (and, as they say in Thailand, wat is wat…). Okay, they don’t really say that in Thailand, but it makes for a good story, ne?

If ever a title were deserving of the chance to catch your eye on a bookstore shelf, it would have to be Colin Cotterill’s second book featuring on-hiatus crime reporter Jimm Juree, Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach. I have been afforded what must be a unique opportunity for a book reviewer, to stay at the author’s house on the Gulf of Siam, to “interview” him (and I use the word interview extraordinarily loosely), and to meet a number of the two- and four-legged characters upon whom characters in the novel were based.

This second installment (a third is due imminently) in the Jimm Juree series finds our heroine embroiled in two concurrent mysteries. The first she almost stumbles upon, when she witnesses one of her adopted canine friends playing with what appears to be a shrivelled ball on the beach in front of the family’s coastal guest house. As you might guess from the title, said ball turns out to be a human head, and its discovery launches Jimm into an investigation of a Thai fishing fleet that may be exploiting, and sometimes killing, Burmese laborers who have come to Thailand in search of a better life. Meanwhile, a mother-daughter duo, apparently on the lam from the law (or something worse) show up at the guest house in a car devoid of license plates or identification numbers, and a very flimsy-sounding explanation for all of the above. Naturally, for an on-hiatus crime reporter, this is a story that merits some delving into.

As is the case with the previous Jimm Juree novel, Killed at the Whim of a Hat, the characters are particularly well fleshed out, based as they are upon real-life individuals. The dogs in particular, all of whom I became well acquainted with, are exceptionally well drawn; if you met them, it would take only a short time for you to figure out which was which, just from the personalities ascribed to them in the book. The true number of dogs, however, lags behind reality in the book, as there are several recent additions to the family. Jimm Juree, as far as I can ascertain, is not based on a particular person, but rather an amalgam of others, spun into a cohesive whole that is self-effacing, engaging, and by times laugh-out-loud funny, not unlike the author, come to think of it.

Sadly, the plight of the Burmese fishermen that forms the basis of the book is far from fiction. They live in what could be described as tenements, if you were being charitable, working for pennies, eating rice and vegetables. Still, many of them, like undocumented workers the world over, make the pilgrimage to the greener pastures of the wealthier next-door neighbor.

A final note: In the first book of the series, Killed at the Whim of a Hat, Colin Cotterill used the whimsical device of beginning each chapter with an actual quote from former US President George W. Bush, one of the many in which the sometimes tongue-tied orator made a hash of what he had intended to say. This time out, each chapter begins with fractured song lyrics, along the lines of the famous Jimi Hendrix line from “Purple Haze”, “scuse me while I kiss this guy.” In the appendix at the end of the book, you can find the actual lyrics, in case you’re interested: “scuse me while I kiss the sky…”

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