Forgot to mention this when my copy arrived — the latest Inspector Singh book, A Calamitous Chinese Killing, was released in the UK a couple of weeks ago. I’ve not read it yet, but only because I’ve still got a backlog of stuff to review properly. Available in paperback and Kindle format now at at Amazon UK, for pre-order at Amazon US, and in epub at Kobo. The UK ebook edition is 3.99, so pretty cheaply priced.
Fifth installment of the series about Inspector Singh of the Singapore police, forever being shipped off elsewhere to get him out of his superiors’ hair. This time he’s on compulsory sick leave, and thus can’t claim pressure of work to avoid being dragged by Mrs Singh to a family wedding in India. But the Singhs arrive only to find that the bride-to-be has disappeared. The last thing her immediate family want is the police involved, because of the social stigma — the obvious motive for the young woman’s disappearance is to avoid an arranged marriage. For the family patriarch, worried about his granddaughter’s welfare as well as her reputation, an investigation by a family member who just happens to be a member of another country’s police force is a much more appealing prospect.
Then a corpse turns up, and the local police are involved whether the family likes it or not. But Singh keeps digging, and finds a tangle of motives that he’s not willing to ignore.
Once again Flint has blended a police procedural with a sensitive look at the ramifications of a real life tragedy. This book is deeply rooted in Sikh culture, and that includes the ongoing after-effects of the 1984 riots and massacre in India. But the latter does not overwhelm the book — it is only one strand in a complex story about a complex society. A particular feature of the book is that it is quite openly an outsider’s view of India, complete with an outsider’s prejudices and reactions — but the outsider here is not a white European, but a member of the Indian diaspora of Singapore. Singh finds India at once both alien and familiar, and this colours his reaction to the things he encounters during his investigation.
Singh is a joy of a character to read about, and Flint has created yet another fascinating twist to her series hook of a police inspector who frequently ends up investigating murder well outside his official jurisdiction. The Singaporean Sikh is a marvellous addition to the ranks of maverick detectives in mystery fiction, and I’m very much hoping that there will be a sixth book in the series.
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.
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.
The Singapore School of Villainy (Inspector Singh Investigates) at Amazon UK
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
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