I was recently offered review copies of the second and third books in the Inspector Singh Investigates series by Shamini Flint, about a Sikh detective in the Singapore police force. I was pleased to accept, as I thought that the first book was very enjoyable, if flawed. I’m very happy to say that the second book, A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul, makes good on the promise shown by the first. The story’s just as good, but the writing’s much smoother in this episode of the Inspector’s adventures, without the choppy pacing and info-dumping of the first in the series. The character of Inspector Singh is a wonderful concept, and this book offers a plot to do him justice.
Singh’s a good detective, with a track record in catching killers, but he doesn’t fit into the current force culture. So once again inspector Singh’s senior officers are only too glad to get him out of their hair by volunteering him as their contribution to a major police investigation in a neighbouring country. In this book the country is Bali, and the crime is once again murder, but this time on a large scale. As the book opens, he’s feeling frustrated because for all his skill at catching killers he has no experience relevant to the investigation of a terrorist attack. But soon there is work for him, for Flint has taken the real life tragedy of the Bali bombings, and added a separate murder mystery. One of the skull fragments recovered from the bomb site has a bullet hole through it. One of the dead was already dead at another’s hand *before* the bomb went off.
Singh might be a fifth wheel on the bomb investigation, but murder on the individual scale is a completely different matter. He takes on the task of finding justice for the one victim out of dozens he can help in death. His temporary assistant this time out is an Australian policewoman from the bomb investigation team. Bronwyn Taylor has also been sidelined by her superiors for perceived insubordination, and her expert area is Indonesian language and culture, not murder. Her personality is far from a perfect match for Singh’s and he often finds her irritating, but nevertheless the two make a good team for this case.
The book’s viewpoint moves around between disparate groups who have had their lives disrupted by the bombing. The primary focus is the two police officers; but there is also a group of rather unappealing British and Australian ex-pats, one of whom has been missing since the bomb, a small group of Indonesian Muslims from another island, and of course some of the local Bali people, both within the police force and without. Singh and Taylor have a long slog piecing together the clues, even after an early breakthrough in identifying the shooting victim, but gradually the different threads they hold start to twine together, leading to a thrilling climax.
It would be very easy for a book using this subject to slip into exploitation, but Flint treats it with great sensitivity. One of the strengths of the first book was the way Flint showed multiple culture clashes from multiple angles, and this book develops the same themes. There is no demonising of any one group, and there is a thoughtful examination of how and why the different groups are motivated to behave as they do. The book is often gently funny and relatively light in tone even though it’s using such a grim background and tackles some serious subjects. This can be a difficult balancing act to pull off, but this book does it well.
As with the first book, Singh himself is a marvellous character, and the other characters are well drawn. Team this with a good story and an evocative description of Bali, and you’ve got a book that’s well worth your time. I’m looking forward to reading the third book, which is set in Flint’s current home, Singapore.
Inspector Singh Investigates: Bali Conspiracy Most Foul: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul (Inspector Singh Investigates 2) at Amazon UK
Inspector Singh Investigates: Bali Conspiracy Most Foul (Inspector Singh Investigates 2) at Amazon US