Written by Colin Cotterill — Frustrated journalist Jimm Juree, hemmed down by family obligations and with no romantic life to speak of, has left her career as a reporter in the big city to help her mother run their shack of a hotel in the small village of Maprao on the coast of Thailand.
When she is not solving crimes that seem to crop up in the vicinity, Jimm is running interference between a pushy transvestite brother, an intermittently sane mother, a brawny but otherwise ill-equipped brother, and a taciturn grandfather. Things don’t improve much when her long-lost father turns up to renew relations with his abandoned wife. The deadly cocktail of her loneliness, a suffocating family, and an impending monsoon which threatens to wash away the remains of their little resort – all combine to form a perfect storm which leaves Jimm emotionally vulnerable.
As if on cue, an elegant English crime writer steps onto the scene, whom she’s assigned by the local paper to interview. He readily sweeps her off her feet with sincere flattery and blue-eyed Continental charm. Her vulnerability to his romantic advances allows her to overlook some glaring oddities in the suave writer’s household, notably an absent wife and an extremely menacing maid.
That’s one side of the storyline. Every other chapter in The Axe Factor is an entry in the anonymous blog of a raving, axe-wielding serial killer who, after getting a first taste of shockingly violent murder wants to up the ante, and soon. Meanwhile, just as the writer is unconcerned about his wife’s absence, so the local police force is unable to connect the dots between her and other women reported missing in the area.
A death threat tacked to her door with a butcher knife and the attempted poisoning of the homeless dogs she shelters doesn’t sway Juree enough to snap out of her reverie. However, her family go into defensive mode, especially her grandfather Jah. He is a retired cop who never for a minute trusts the farang writer and the current crisis re-awakens his old investigative tendencies. With Jimm in a romantic glamour, it is up to her family to rally and protect her, as families do, even dysfunctional ones. This is a common theme in Cotterill’s books, where family and community form ranks to protect each other.
Jimm’s family is aided by her friend Lieutenant Chompu, an overtly flamboyant queen whose excellent nose for police work is belied by his magisterial flare. He is one of the best characters in the series, and is a trademark Cotterill creation: patently eccentric but with a heart of gold. Chompu helps Juree trace the missing doctor’s career, which describes a long history of defying corporate malfeasance and third world exploitation on a grand scale. When Jimm Juree disappears just as the blog promises a new victim, it may be too late for her rag-tag rescue squad of a family as they rush to the scene.
Folks used to Cotterill’s madcap brand of noir may nevertheless find this installment lacking. It seems to fall back on the structure of the previous book, Grandad, There’s a Head on the Beach, with its running gag of ironic chapter headings. The trouble is this one misses the mark, for all it’s comic intentions. It remains to be seen whether the series is getting attenuated or if this just represents a weak note. Even Cotterill’s revered Dr Siri Paboun series had lacklustre moments. The Jimm Juree books share the political undercurrent that runs through the Siri series, where the characters deal head-on with real social injustice issues, but it never pretends to be as sober, and is just plain wacky.
I’m a big fan of Jimm Juree, and as a whole, The Axe Factor preserves the series’ well-developed characters, who maintain their quirkiness and panache in a novel filled with sex, violence, and ample red herrings to satisfy the average mystery fan. But for all its gory gruesomeness mixed with slapstick comedy, this mostly entertaining follow-up still falls flat in comparison to previous entries.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars