Fresh Meat: The Axe Factor by Colin Cotterill

The Axe Factor by Colin Cotterill is the third Jimm Juree Mystery about a relocated news reporter in rural Thailand who finds herself entwined with a suspicious crime writer (available April 15, 2014).

The setting is Thailand.  I close my eyes and hear the sounds of Chiang Mai and the smell of cooking fills my nostrils, only to be interrupted by the unavoidable stench of death from the pages of Colin Cotterill’s particularly well written crime thriller. It starts off in the minimalist style  of a killer and gets straight to the point:

I write.

It is how I earn my living. I used to think there were those who wrote and those who performed, as separate as those who dreamed and those who lived their dreams. But tonight I stepped across that line. I graduated from writer of death to taker of life. I’ve never felt as free as I do now. If they arrest me, not that they’re likely to, I couldn’t pretend it was spontaneous: a spur-of-the-moment red rage or passion. I’d imagined it, you see? I’d pictured it vividly in solid oils rather than washed-out watercolours. It had been a recurring multicoloured vision for so many years it was only a matter of time before it took on the grisly form of reality.

The point gets sharper:

To give her credit she hadn’t deserved all this gore. She was no more annoying than most of the women I’ve known. Perhaps she put a little too much effort into thoughts that didn’t warrant thinking. Perhaps she spoke when silence would have been the better option.

I was grabbed from page one and pulled into this world, any protestations useless:

But in many respects she served me well. Visitors liked her. She made a superb cup of coffee and performed her designated night-time duties to the best of her ability. Were I given more to diplomacy, I might have even been able to resolve these latest troubles without the use of the axe. But there was the question of betrayal, you see? Hard to forgive…

There is no shying away, and the descriptions are not for the faint-of-heart, though they are quick and sharp. This is evident in the killer’s blog where he notes “I’m astounded how crime writers make dismemberment seem so labor-intensive.” There are also some well-crafted, lighter moments, like when Clint Eastwood is contacted by a would-be screen writer:

We decided to increase the odds of you receiving this package by making thirty-seven copies, which we are sending to your work colleagues, some senior shareholders of the company, friends and family.

This is just like the real world of the film industry. I sat down to dinner once with a famous producer when a man came from nowhere, ripped open my dining companion’s shirt and stuffed a script inside it. I remember the immortal words, “you can read that when you get home. My number is on the front page. I look forward to hearing from you.” I also remember a shirt button floating in my soup. The producer? He shall remain nameless, as I caught a glimpse of a very strange tattoo when the shirt was unceremoniously ripped asunder. The script? It was put in the incinerator by a helpful waiter used to such things.

Though there isn’t too much shirt ripping or buttons flying in The Axe Factor, there are plenty of twists and turns, infused with that special Thai flavor. Just as killers have their own calling cards or preferred method of dispatching their victims, countries have their own rules which, when applied to another culture or place, may not resonate. But this is what makes them unique and reading about them interesting. I learned:

…in Thailand one did not toss a coin of the realm for fear that the regent might be insulted should it land facedown.

Jimm Juree is the local reporter who interviews the dashing English author Conrad Coralbank. He is used to getting what he wants and he makes it clear, after their first encounter, that what he wants is Jimm. He gets her without any struggle as she is quite willing to get to grips with the scribe. She also manages to put together a perfectly acceptable piece about the international writer who has previously graced the pages of Cosmopolitan, but her editor wants more, some juice and dirt if possible. The search for this contributes partly to her venture into Coralbank’s bed, and then into his arms. But it is not all in the cause of research. She genuinely falls for him.

Eventually, a local doctor, Somluk, goes missing whilst attending a conference on Nurture and Nutrition organized by the Bonny Baby group. Jimm, with the nose of a reporter and would-be detective, goes on the trail to find out what happened to the woman. On the way, friends warn her about Conrad, suggesting he is not all that he seems, but she ignores them. They are just being overprotective, she reasons. The trail of the missing doctor gets intertwined with the interests of big business. (Along the way, you'll also meet the “Mickey Rourke of chickens” as well as see an homage to Linda Blair in The Exorcist.) Finally, Jimm finds herself far too close to the titular axe murderer for comfort.

You'll have to read it to experience for yourself, but last thing I will tell you about this novel is that nothing is exactly what it seems!

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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.

Read all Dirk Robertson’s posts for Criminal Element.