Book review: Shamini Flint — Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy

Inspector Singh is back, but for a change his superiors aren’t intent in temporarily ridding themselves of him by lending him to a neighbouring country’s police force. This time the high profile murder is a lot closer to home, in the Singapore offices of an international law firm. The overweight, chain-smoking policeman in white trainers may be a disgrace to the force, but he’s also very good at his job. Who better to lead the investigation into the brutal murder of the law firm’s senior partner?

For once he has all the resources of the police force to call upon. This is a high profile case involving wealthy, influential expatriates who bring enormous value to the country, and the police administration wants it solved. But the flipside for Singh is being forced to treat the suspects a good more gently than he’d like. Not that Singh is into police brutality, but keeping both suspects and innocents with useful information off balance is part of his toolkit. He has to think of more devious means to achieve it than simply dragging them down to the nick for a surprise interview.

But as Singh starts digging, he keeps being handed potential motives. Mark Thompson had called a after-hours meeting at short notice of the senior lawyers in the office, and it’s probable that someone killed him to stop him disclosing whatever it was he’d discovered was going on behind the scenes. Too many of the lawyers have something to hide, and their attempts to cover up their secrets only end up making each of them look potentially guilty of murder. Then there’s the current wife and the ex-wife of the murdered man, each set on blaming the other, and with good reason. It’s a long, slow process of solving each individual mystery, and Singh is going to need those resources he has on tap.

Singh has always been clearly portrayed as a Sikh, but in this book we see his home life, and his ties into the Sikh social network and culture. All the more so because by an unfortunate coincidence that causes him a great deal of grief during the investigation, the distant nephew of his wife who didn’t show up to a “meet the local relatives” dinner turns out not to have done so because he was one of the lawyers called to the meeting with Mark Thompson. Singh’s quite capable of keeping family and business separate, but others don’t always see it that way.

The book as a whole does an excellent job of portraying Singapore and its particular blend of tension between expats and locals, and between different ethnicities. Even within the law office, sexism and racism amongst the expats from assorted countries provide fuel for crime — and the racism isn’t just whites considering themselves superior to locals.

Flint does a superb job of blending social commentary with a solidly written police procedural. Singh with his understanding of human nature has echoes of the best Miss Marple and Poirot stories, but he’s very much his own man, in his own skillfully drawn setting. As with previous books, he’s a joy of a character to read about, but here we learn more about him — and about his home city. Flint has drawn on her own experience of being a Malaysian lawyer in Singapore to produce a richly detailed story with a cast of vividly written characters.

It’s relatively light in tone, although it doesn’t pull away from showing the harsher side of Singapore law, and there are some emotionally wrenching moments. A great read, and you don’t need to have read either of the previous books in the series to enjoy this one.

ISBN: 978-0749929770
LibraryThing entry
The Singapore School of Villainy (Inspector Singh Investigates) at Amazon UK
at Play.com
Inspector Singh Investigates: Singapore School of Villainy Bk. 3 (Singh Investigates 3) at Amazon US
Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy — Kindle edition (which is sold from Amazon US, but looks as if it might be available in the UK as well, along with the first two books in the series)
at The Book Depository

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