—New York Times
Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach (Jimm Juree Series #2)by Colin Cotterill, Kim Mai Guest (Narrated by)
Jimm Juree, who was well on her way to becoming the primary crime reporter for the major daily newspaper in Chiang Mai, is less than thrilled to have lost her job and relocated to a place where nothing ever happens. When she learns that a head has washed up on the beach, she greets the news with mixed emotions. It’s tragic, of course, but this could be the
Jimm Juree, who was well on her way to becoming the primary crime reporter for the major daily newspaper in Chiang Mai, is less than thrilled to have lost her job and relocated to a place where nothing ever happens. When she learns that a head has washed up on the beach, she greets the news with mixed emotions. It’s tragic, of course, but this could be the sort of sensational murder that would get her a byline in a major daily—if she still worked for one. Instead, all she can do is find out who was murdered and why.With her former cop grandfather as back up, she sets out to discover how the poor fellow ended up where he did—and why. On their journey, with the rest of their disjointed family in tow, they uncover gruesome tales of piracy and slavery, violence and murder in the Gulf of Thailand. Are the authorities uninterested because they’re involved, or because the victims aren’t Thai? Whatever the reason, Jimm and her team are going it alone and their lives are under threat. And who exactly are those two elegant women in cabin three and why has the engine number of their car been filed away? Airport hostages and hand grenades, monkeys and naked policemen—once more the sublime and the ridiculous clash at the Gulf Bay Lovely Resort and Restaurant.
—New York Times
—Booklist [HC starred review]
“Cotterill effortlessly merges murder and mirth.... Impressively, the author manages to insert a serious human rights problem amid the larking around without hitting a false note, and is on track to duplicate the acclaim and commercial success of his Dr. Siri series.” Publishers Weekly
“Definitely puts the fun in family dysfunction. Jimm, an Asian Stephanie Plum, rattles steadily to a solution, with many hilarious episodes along the way.” Kirkus Reviews
“The author's natural gift for irony ... is to be relished.” Library Journal
“Cotterill masterfully blends real-world issues . . . with appealing cozy elements and his trademark humor. Series readers will be thrilled with this installment and anxious for the next one.” Booklist
“The best beach title around.” New York Times
Read an Excerpt
Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach
A Jimm Juree Mystery
By Colin Cotterill
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Colin Cotterill
All rights reserved.
Slipping on the Dog
(from "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" — BURT BACHARACH)
He didn't so much as look up. He had a lot of problems, did Grandad. Deafness wasn't one of them. Ignorance was. He feigned the former to achieve the latter.
He knew I was there, but I admit I'd chosen a bad time to get through to him. It was the morning rush hour in downtown Maprao and he had traffic to examine. As the fishermen traveled to or from their boats, a lot of them stopped off at Jiep's rice porridge stall across the street. Six thirty was as busy as it would ever get. He sat beside the road in his white undervest and his Fred Flintstone shorts and he tsssked and tutted at the passing vehicles. Like an ex-matador might sit on a farm fence glaring at a bull, pondering how, in his prime he would have demeaned and disfigured the beast, so Grandad gave the evil eye to every passing truck and motorcycle sidecar. There weren't that many, but every one of them flouted the highway code in one way or another. Grandad knew every regulation. He'd been a traffic policeman for forty years, and then for fourteen more years he'd subscribed to the Royal Thai Police Force Road Users' Gazette to keep up with amendments. He was a living compendium of petty legislation: probably the most knowledgeable man on the subject in Chumphon province, if not the whole country. We'd often urged him to send in an application to Channel Five's Genuine Fan, where people who'd spent their entire lives focused on something utterly useless — combative stag beetles, designer handbags, English Premiership football results and the like — had a chance to answer questions on their chosen specialty and win a refrigerator. Grandad Jah would have had a fleet of Toshiba freezers by now.
I glared at him, still hoping for a response. It was like waiting for Cro-Magnon man to evolve. I wondered what use we might have found for him if he'd invested his vast memory on nuclear physics rather than traffic regulations.
In rural Thailand it's unlikely anyone would know the first thing about the rules of the road, especially not the police. If you were too poor to front up to the Motor Car License division with a generous bottle of whiskey and a wink (in which case your license would be expedited), you'd be asked to fill out a multiple choice quiz whose correct answers were well indented on the pad from the previous twenty applicants. You'd then drive your vehicle to a tree, beneath which the examiner sat. He or she would ask you to park. If you managed to do so without knocking over the tree or hitting the examiner, you had a license. The few people who knew the rules were at a disadvantage down here. The north–south highway, Route 41, passes through Chumphon, and it's the most dangerous stretch of road in the country. All those righteous smart-alecs from Bangkok who learned when to signal politely and how to adjust their hands at the ten-to-two position on the steering wheel were invariably sideswiped by unlit coconut-carrying pickups coming at them at full speed in the wrong direction. Arrogance is punished in Chumphon.
So, anyway, there I was trying to get Grandad's attention for a matter I considered to be infinitely more urgent than traffic.
"Grandad," I called in an irritating screechy voice. "There's a head on the beach."
If that didn't grab him, nothing would. He'd been glaring at a truck with conflicting plates. The one on the back was handwritten on cardboard. The number at the front was different. It was a traffic policeman's nirvana, but I got a dab of eye contact before his attention returned to the truck.
"A head of what?" he asked quietly.
"Head of fish?"
He always spoke slowly and enunciated like a teacher at a special school. Despite the fact that I was a moderately sane thirty-four-year-old Thai woman, he often talked to me as if I was a mentally challenged youth.
"Head of dog?" he continued. "Head of cabbage?"
"Head of man," I said, as calmly as I could under the very annoying circumstances. It's always a bother to decide who to tell when you find a head on the beach. I mean, there is no protocol. And when I say "always" here, I may be exaggerating somewhat because I can't say I've stumbled over too many heads on my morning dog walks. I'd seen body parts in morgues, of course, and accident scenes, but that Wednesday was my first detached head. It upset me that it hadn't upset me enough.
My inner alarm clock had woken me up at six, as was its habit. It doesn't have an inner snooze button, so I got up. This was not a habit born out of a desire to watch the sunrise or to frolic gaily along the sand with my doggy friends. It was a habit begat by the fact that there was absolutely nothing to do at night in the mulch pit we'd arrived in a year earlier. "Maprao" means coconut, and that pretty much sums the place up: thick skinned, dull as dirt, and containing nothing of substance. I'm spending too much time here on sidetracks and making a mess of what should be a tense and exciting opening to my story, so I'll save all the gripes and family intrigues for later.
Back to the beach. We had two dogs. Or perhaps I should say the two dogs had us because there were no walls to keep them in. They arrived at mealtimes from whatever mischief they'd embroiled themselves in, and would deign to sleep at our modest seaside resort — or not. Unfortunately, whenever I opened my cabin door of a morning, there they would be; wagging. Gogo, bitch in every sense of the word, was one of my mother's roadside rescues. No manners. No gratitude. No intestines. She ate like a horse and defecated like a cow. Our vet, Dr. Somboon, who was fortunately a livestock specialist, told us that Gogo was physically unable to digest. So we gave her a mountain of food every day in the expectation that a small hillock of it might find its way to her muscles. That had not yet happened.
Dog two: Sticky Rice, white, one enormous black eye, had been a temple pup. He was a thief. Not yet seven months of age, but no excuse. Were he a human teenager, he would be under lock and key at a juvenile correctional facility. No shoe was safe in front of the guest rooms. No bottom-shelf instant noodle pack, no drying squid, no garden vegetable. He had them all. And, cunning beast, he left no evidence because he ate everything: leaves, packets, laces. He gave a new definition to the word "consumable." If you've never seen a dog chew through a breeze block and not spit out the crumbs, you've not met Sticky.
All right. I'm lost again. So, there we were, on the beach. The wind du jour was just starting to roll the polystyrene blocks like tumbleweeds. Plastic bags were being thrown up by the tide. There was nothing pleasurable about our amble, but my mother, Mair, insisted I walk the dogs twice a day — as if they didn't have legs and minds of their own. It was November, so you could barely make out any sand under all the garbage. Urban dwellers who have a river passing behind their houses see it as a sort of free, convenient, garbage-disposal system. Toss a plastic bag full of diapers into it and voilà, it's gone. Nature is truly a wonder. All that disgusting junk gets spewed out of the Lang Suan River estuary and obligingly sent to our bay via the incoming monsoon tides. The dogs love garbage days because there are obviously so many more nutrients in putrid fish and half-drunk cartons of congealed chocolate milk than there are in the extortionately expensive Pedigree Chum that Mair feeds them.
The hounds were forty meters ahead and they'd found something among the debris. They were excited. When Gogo comes across something that confuses her, she whimpers and does a sort of canine native-American war dance. When Sticky comes across the unexpected, he eats it. But it was obviously too big to eat because he was doing the forward-backward tango and barking the hell out of it. As I got closer, I thought a rubber mask had been washed up on the tide. A face stared at me with one of those frightening Hallowe'en expressions. I decided it would be a lot of fun to take it back to the resort and scare the daylights out of my little brother. I even got close enough to reach down to pick it up. And then I realized.
My "sister" and I have it in mind to one day become wealthy by writing screenplays for movies. A couple of months earlier I'd sent off treatments to our hero Clint Eastwood in Carmel, California. He has a movie company called Malpaso Productions. They unequivocally do not accept movie treatments by e-mail. This is to be expected as not only do they not have an email address, they also don't even have a Web site. How much more secure does a man have to be in his own omnipotence than to spurn the Internet? How can you not love such a man? No harassment from annoying amateurs taking up his valuable time. No groupies. Clint is an unapproachable guy unless you happen to have a former brother who's an Internet criminal. Sissi handles the Web like a .44 magnum. Through some basic hacking exercises that I'm told any third-grader can do, Sissi found the top-secret e-mail address of Clint's personal assistant, Liced. I've only ever seen that written down, so I have no idea how you'd pronounce it. I'm leaning toward Liced as in "full of lice." But anyway, Sissi began a line of communication with Liced that initially entailed my sister saying how lucky Liced was to be working with Clint, and Liced telling her to get off her personal e-mail or she'd file a harassment suit. But as often happens in these stalking relationships, animosity turned to friendship. Their relationship was cemented when Sissi sent a kilogram of cat's whisker herbal capsules when she learned from the lady's private medical file that she had kidney stones. It was a birthday present. Liced was overwhelmed, and it was through this back passageway that we submitted our treatments and you're probably wondering what the hell all this has to do with a head on the beach. Right? Well, you'd be perfectly within your rights to be irritated. Here it is.
My first reaction on seeing a decapitated head on the beach should have been "Oh, my God. [Scream optional as there was nobody around to hear it.] How awful," etc. Whereas, in fact, the opening scene of a movie flashed into my mind.
EXT-COCONUT BEACH — EARLY MORNING
A beautiful Asian girl is jogging along a pristine white sand beach with Tin Tin her golden retriever at her side. The sweat causes her flimsy T-shirt to cling to her pert breasts offering a suggestion of nipples. Not so obvious as to alienate the censor early on, but enough to pull in half a million horny teenage boys once they've seen the trailer. She stumbles over a severed head on the sand ...
It needed work. I mean she'd have to be blind not to notice a head on a pristine beach. Perhaps I could make Tin Tin a guide dog. But the point was ... the head had set off my imagination long before it occurred to me I should have been repulsed by it. I hoped with all my tiny little heart that this was a psychological defense mechanism. That my subconscious was blanking out the horror of my discovery and replacing it with a screenplay. All being well, I'd burst into tears and be inconsolable later.
I studied him. Head. Male. Thirties. Maybe younger without the wave-buffeting and salt water puckering. Two earrings on his left ear. Long hair wrapped around him like seaweed. A "No! For God's sake, don't do it" expression on his waxy face. Propped against a shoe. It's astounding, but our beach is a single-shoe repository. A lot of one-legged people come to Maprao to supplement their shoe supplies. Our head leaned against a pale green platform clog at such an angle as to suggest a possibility — a vague and distant possibility — that the rest of the body was buried at attention beneath it like a Chinese terracotta warrior. Given the number of years it had taken to inter a terracotta warrior, I rather doubted it, but a good investigative journalist didn't leave anything to chance. I poked it with a stick.
It was a mistake on a number of levels because the head spun around to stare glassily straight into my face. The mouth dropped a fraction, as if to begin a speech, and a crab walked out. My heart took refuge behind my sternum for a brief moment. Sensing my distress, Sticky jumped in to protect me. He grabbed our head by the nose and started to shake it. It was very brave of him, and I'd like to believe he was acting as my bodyguard rather than merely starting breakfast early. But when Grandad Jah accompanied me to the beach twenty minutes later, that was the reason our head was covered with a plastic laundry basket with a rock on top of it. I called it the preservation of evidence. I removed the basket and took photographs of the head from several angles with my cell phone while Grandad sat cross-legged on the beach.
"You think he was attacked by a shark?" I asked.
I often plied Grandad with theories I already knew the answers to. It made him feel superior and got his creative juices flowing. It might seem odd that I should consult a traffic cop on matters related to head severance, but deep down Grandad had been a real policeman in the Western sense. He would probably have been a great detective if only he'd allowed himself to accept the odd bribe every now and then. Corruption was a necessary stepping stone along the pathway to promotion in the Thai police force. How could anybody have faith in an honest policeman? None of his colleagues could trust him. There's probably some whistle-blower joke I could put in here, but I really have to keep track of the story. All I need to say is that after forty years in the force, he had reached the humble rank of corporal and, without those odd baksheesh bonuses, pretty much survived from the proceeds from our family shop in Chiang Mai. If only he'd dived into the slush I know he could have been somebody. He had a marvelous policeman's instinct.
"No," he said.
On the negative side, getting words out of him was like waiting for a whale to give birth.
"Unless the shark was carrying a saber" — he took time out to sigh at my ignorance — "this had nothing to do with sea creatures."
I admit the neck wound was very neat, but I knew first impressions could be deceptive. I suppose I still had in mind the foreigner a few months earlier who'd put a plastic bag over his head, tied a rope around his neck, and jumped off a bridge. The noose had snared and the body had snapped clean off and continued down into the river. All that remained was a head in a plastic bag at the end of a rope. For weeks the police believed it was a Mafia revenge killing. But the pathologist confirmed it was all due to gravity. Heads are obviously not as well connected as we'd like to believe.
"Why's that?" I asked.
He gave me the look.
"Think, Jimm, think. First, in spite of what the Thai cinema would have us believe, there aren't really that many creatures in the sea that rip people apart for the hell of it. Sharks are the most feared deep-sea psychopaths, but they are actually a rather maligned creature. In fact, they would prefer to hoover up plankton rather than go to the trouble of chewing on human gristle. If we don't bother them, they don't eat us. Simple as that. There's more likelihood of being hit on the head by a bullet fired into the air during a celebration than there is of being attacked by a shark. Second, the tissue and vertebrae of the neck is especially tough. A sea creature would have to shake and gnaw to get through it. There is no bruising here. This was a clean single cut performed by a skilled swordsman."
"So how do you think our friend here wound up on the beach without his body?" I asked.
Grandad shimmied across the sand and, to my amazement, picked up the head and turned it over, like an antique dealer looking for a manufacture date.
"Sharp knife?" he said. "Machete? Sword? Don't know. I wasn't a forensic scientist. I directed traffic."
Excerpted from Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach by Colin Cotterill. Copyright © 2012 Colin Cotterill. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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I was first introduced to Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri's stories. I whipped through all the books very fast, enjoying the doings of the elderly, but sharp-witted protagonist, Dr. Siri. Cotterill has a sly, sense of humor that does not distract from his mysteries at all. I bought the audio version of the first Jimm Juree book, "Killed at the Whim of a Hat," and found myself desperately waiting for the second one. The Jimm Juree books are lighter than Dr. Siri, but they are just as rich in detail, and equally clever and amusing. Another bonus of both series is that they are set in Southeast Asia;the author has clearly studied the quirks, habits, and history of the local people. I highly recommend this book, though you should probably start with the first one so you are properly introduced to Jimm Juree's family and her friends.
While IMHO, the first book of this series "Killed at the Whim of a Hat" is better; this one is action-packed as you learn about the perils of immigrants trying to survive in coastal areas.
Summarizing the story here is best left to the publisher, but this is one wacky book. Toward the end,one of the characters asks "Why did we bother?" That's an appropriate question. Why did the author bother to write it and why did I bother to read it? It is so utterly silly and pointless. Yes, I know that there is some humor there, but not enough to merit a few hours of my time. Others will reach different conclusions, and you are entitled to them and all of the time you want to spend on this silly novel.