Killed at the Whim of a Hat
Cotterill’s latest book has the intriguing title Killed at the Whim of a Hat
(ISBN 978-1-84916-552-5, Quercus Books, 2011).
This is a detective novel, with a twist, and begins with the finding of a
buried VW Kombi wagon, with two skeletons in the front seats. One is wearing
Apparently unconnected, a monk is found dead, having been subject of
multiple stab wounds, and photographed, with a camera left containing the
The reader is taken through all this by a young female journalist Jimm
Juree, who spends her time ferreting for information, while using the laxity
of the police to give her more opportunities.
The book is definitely set in Thailand, and Cotterill shows that he has a
complete understanding of the complex Thai culture, redolent with
‘influential figures’ who drive black Mercedes-Benz cars and think
themselves above the law, because of the money they have or positions of
power they hold or have held. And then there is the Chinese family
matriarch, which one is advised to stay on the right side of - or not, at
your own risk. Yes, these are such frequent situations in the
non-transparent networkings of the Thai society, but very rarely better
described within the context of life in the Land of Smiles.
The plot springs along at a brisk pace, as the heroine Jimm, aided by her
grandfather attempt to pin down and identify the killer (or killers) and
whether male or female. A besotted Buddhist nun ranks high in the suspect
list - or is it purely circumstantial? You will be kept guessing right to
the end, as good detective novels should be.
It is always a delight to read books written by writers with flair and
imagination. Stodgy prose is certainly not Cotterill’s style. His
description of an elderly woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease,
“I came to realize that this was my mother traveling backwards on a
mechanical walkway, passing through time, past huge placards advertising
moments from her life.” Describing a hospital, “The outpatients area was
ablaze with color: the dull yellow of hepatitis, the scarlets and crimsons
of recent motorcycle accidents, the mauve of football injuries, the pale
greens of food-poisoning and the various shades of pink from pregnancy right
through the color chart to the weak pallor of anemia.”
Kudos for the Chiang Mai Mail where a subject states, “The Chiang Mai Mail
taught you ethics.” Perhaps we should have checked to see if Jimm Juree
worked for the northern capital’s English language newspaper.
At B. 585 this is a well worthwhile read. You will be entertained, educated
and your sleuthing instincts primed. I enjoyed this book very much.
By the way, if you are wondering about the rather quaint title, with its
fractured English, author Cotterill assures the reader that these were the
words spoken by American past president George W Bush, famous for his
Malapropisms, quoting from George Dubbya’s speech in Washington in 2004,
“…free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no
conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat.”
Siamese Memoirs - The Life and Times of Pimsai Svasti
those who were not in Thailand in 1977, the name Pimsai Svasti may not ring
any bells, but for those who followed Thai history, she will be remembered
as the woman of noble birth who was murdered by her gardeners.
Siamese Memoirs (ISBN 978-974-225-713-2, Amulet Production, 2011) is the
story of Pimsai Svasti as told by herself and her son Ping Amranand.
The book begins with the table of the Kings of the Chakri dynasty. This is
followed by a (partial) family tree of the descendants of King Mongkut (Rama
IV), showing that her grandfather Prince Svasti was one of the sons of King
Mongkut. Indeed inheriting ‘royal’ blood.
By page 16 I was being educated. The surname “Svasti” actually came from the
Sanskrit word “Svastika” and the family emblem is the swastika, but
inverted, compared to that taken by Adolf Hitler. The symbol actually dating
back thousands of years to the Indus Valley civilizations.
Pimsai was one of the foremost English language writers, having spent many
years in England as part of the retinue of King Prajadhipok, who ruled up
till in 1933 until his abdication and self-imposed exile in the UK.
She begins with “I was born in a haunted house” a classical ploy to attract
the attention of the reader. And she does.
There are some very sage concepts expressed in this book. King Prajadhipok
discussing the push for democracy, that ended with his abdication. “(It has
become) increasingly apparent that democracy is a two-edged sword. Unless
the majority of the populace are well informed, the democratic process
itself can be used as a tool by politicians with less than ideal morals to
manipulate themselves into power by hoodwinking segments of society.” I read
this book during the voting period, and the message was even more clear.
The book is studded with photographs, mainly of Pimsai and her sisters, but
of much greater value are the discussions of Thai life and how they used to
At the end of the book are the acknowledgements, and Ping Amranand states
that it became a celebration of his mother’s effervescent life, and as a
final tribute he appends the recipe for his mother’s punch, which starts
with three large bottles of Mekong. That is a punch with punch!
At an RRP of B. 585, this is a very inexpensive look at the old Siamese
royal court and even more, of the times when she lived. The book is very
touching and one feels honored to be able to catch a glimpse of a lifestyle
none of us ever had, and will never have the opportunity to do so in the
future. The alternating chapters between Pimsai and those written by her son
are very well handled and the different color stock to indicate which writer
is an excellent idea (grey for Pimsai and white for Ping). I have not read a
more moving book this year, and I do suggest that if you are a scholar of
Thai history, this book should be on your shelf, and not on Bookazine’s.
100 Countries - 5,000 Ideas
of the books from the National Geographic stables and is marketed as a trip
advisor - Where to go, When to go, What to see, What to do (ISBN
978-1-4262-0758-7, National Geographic, USA, 2011).
The Foreword by travel writer Rudy Maxa points out that while the internet
can find you places, it can become a laborious way to find the where, when,
what of an unknown location. He mentions the sagacity of having a ‘trusted
friend’, and suggests that this book should be thought of as just that.
The book is so comprehensive and loaded with facts that the reader should
spend some time in the second chapter called, “How to use this book.” There
are charts at the front and back of the book designed to assist you in
finding the right trip for your interests and lifestyle and give you the
best times to travel, as well as health and passport/visa information.
Suggestions narrow the possible destinations for the reader and the next
step is to read up the 100 countries section. Having found your holiday
Utopia, you can then consult the charts for the times to go, how much living
costs and study the detailed maps to see where else you might like to visit
in that country.
There is one section dealing with ‘themed’ destinations. This covers Desert
Landscapes, Caribbean or Mediterranean Cruises, Traveling with Children,
Marine Wildlife, Cultural Travel, Adventure, Ecological touring, All
Inclusive holidays, Spa vacations or Unforgettable Nights (do you want to
spend a night in an igloo, for example).
The main destinations are all well covered, but for the adventurous it is
well worth reading about destinations you would not have immediately thought
of, such as Botswana, French Guiana, Montenegro (you could always drop in
for afternoon tea with one rather well known Thai resident), or Uzbekistan.
The vast amount of information does not end there. There is a 20 page
appendix which will tell you the right trip for your interests, the right
trip for your lifestyle (you don’t travel the same way when you are 60 as
you did when you were a 20 something backpacker), the relative costs (over
$5,000 for a cruise to the Antarctic regions, or a mere $1,300 for a 10 day
cruise around Croatia). There is even a two page spreadsheet giving you the
best time to travel in tropical climates. In case you had forgotten, the
best times in Thailand are November through to March, but avoid Jamaica from
May to November because of the hurricanes and April to June in Amazonia
because of the rains.
At B. 850 this is a very well researched resource. It has far more than you
would imagine and should be on every traveler’s library shelf. I found very
little at which to take umbrage, and I felt that Thailand was dealt very
fairly, with suggestions on Cities and Monuments, Coasts, Landscapes and
Excursions in the break-out box to the side. With one hundred countries
covered, you would be unlucky not to find your next exploration trip in
there somewhere. A very much recommended publication.
The 4-Hour Work Week
someone working ridiculous hours, seeing a book in Bookazine which proposes
a four hour working week, was to be seen as manna from heaven - if it was
really possible. Timothy Ferriss, in his book The 4-Hour Work Week (ISBN
978-0-0919-2911-4, Vermilion Imprint, Ebury Publishing, 2011) proclaims on
the cover, “Escape the 9-5, live anywhere and join the New Rich.” You got
me, young Tim!
Each chapter is introduced with quotes from the famous, and I liked the one
from Oscar Wilde, “Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack
of imagination.” I could relate to that, having been told by successive bank
managers that I have lived beyond my means. I may be in debt, but at least I
Many points that author Ferriss brings up are actually very valid, and I
have to admit that I have always confused “Being Effective vs Being
Efficient.” He states that, “Being efficient without regard to effectiveness
is the default mode of the universe.”
Ferriss brings up Pareto’s 80/20 Law which can be looked upon as 80 percent
of the outputs result from 20 percent of the inputs. He also advocates ways
to cut down on your necessity to check emails and even how to avoid
answering the telephone.
Much of his recommendations require you to outsource your work, leaving you
with more time, which you should use effectively. This of course is more
easily said (or written) than done, especially if you are a 9-5 wages
employee. Ferriss had a mail order business he had started, which was very
successful, so consequently could outsource much of his managerial duties.
He admits that this does take away from the bottom line, but the additional
time that this gives is enough to start enjoying one’s leisure life. He
gives examples of his Virtual Assistants (VA) who are in Bangalore, but who
are meticulous in their research. And just how much time he has freed up,
and his VA only costs $40 per hour, but he only needs an hour of the VA’s
time, so that represents $40 a week to free up eight hours. And yes, he does
mention the outsourcing company and how to contact it.
Towards the middle of the book there are various answers to the FAQ’s you
will have regarding VA’s before you even formulate them. Ferriss is very
much the pro-active person.
His advice on just how to handle this ethereal body, called the VA, is very
salient, and there are even prices quoted and how many hours must one take
per week. The $7 an hour VA is not so cheap when you find you have to
contract to use the VA for 20 hours per week.
At B. 495, this book is a cheap investment in your future. Ferriss even
gives examples of how to start up and the pitfalls to avoid. By the end of
the book I was ready to branch out with an idea of my own. It may not work,
but it will be fun and I like the thought of having my own VA.