33) Inspector Singh Investigates: A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree
The fourth of the series about the portly chain-smoking Inspector from Singapore’s police service. This time Singh has been volunteered to hold a watching brief on behalf of ASEAN at the Cambodian war crimes tribunal. The idea is to kill two birds with one stone by 1) keeping him out of his superiors’ hair and 2) providing a top murder cop as a delegate as a political exercise. Nobody expects Singh to actually *do* anything other than be obviously present, and he calls on his local counterpart purely out of politeness. Colonel Menhay has quite enough on his plate, between running an investigation into a serial killer who is targeting former Khmer Rouge, and heading up the security for the current trial at the tribunal. But then someone kills a tribunal witness. The UN liaison wants a top murder cop with no ties to Cambodia in joint charge to provide the investigation with credibility in the eyes of the world, and that cop is Singh.
Singh’s experienced at working on secondment in other countries, but until now he’s always had at least some grasp of at least one of the local languages. This time out he’s far more reliant on help from the locals, particularly his interpreter/guide, and has to adjust his methods to suit. And then there are the ever-present ghosts of Cambodia’s past, which must be faced to solve the murders in the present. Singh has confronted murder in bulk before, but never on the scale of genocide.
But Singh doesn’t let these things deter him from his dogged pursuit of justice for the dead. A justice that requires that the right person be convicted of the crimes, and as ever, Singh is not willing to simply take the first convenient suspect that comes to hand.
As with the Bali book earlier in the series, Shamini Flint has taken a real life tragedy and woven a compelling murder mystery around it. If handled badly it could have been merely exploitative, but this book treats the subject of the Cambodian genocide with great sensitivity. And as with the earlier book, Flint has managing the difficult trick of blending a gentle humour through much of the book without trivialising the crimes she’s writing about. Along the way we see how the apparently simple choices people make can haunt them for the rest of their lives. And once again we have the wonderful character of Inspector Singh, with an excellent supporting cast of one-off characters.
This is a powerful story, with characters who make you care about their fate. A worthy addition to the Inspector Singh series.