Inspector Singh investigates : A curious Indian cadaver by Shamini Flint

Inspector Singh, of the Singapore police force, might just have to look to his laurels.  Courtesy, of all unlikely people, his wife, Mrs. Singh.

In this funny, laugh-out-loud 6th instalment of the Inspector Singh series, we see the Malaysian-Singaporean Sikh going to India for the first time, to attend, of all unlikely things for such an anti-family man, a family wedding.

His wife’s family, of course.

Still on enforced sick leave after his Cambodian escapades, the good detective has no excuse for not attending the wedding of his wife’s first cousin’s daughter.

This is a high-society arranged marriage, a concept alien to Inspector Singh, but not to his good wife:

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Soon after their arrival in Mumbai, there is a suspicious death, and Inspector Singh is plunged headlong into an investigation that includes questioning many of his wife’s family.  As he tramps the dirty streets of Mumbai, lamenting the damage being done to his trademark white sneakers, Mrs. Singh stays close in the bosom of her traumatised family – and becomes, de facto, her husband’s source on the inside.

In her earlier Inspector Singh books, Ms Flint has always used the clever device of an assistant/sidekick/translator who helps the Singaporean policeman on his foreign jaunts.  This local assistant provides the detective (and we the readers) with an insight into a different society, and is the foil against which Inspector Singh views and judges the new country.

Enter Mrs. Singh, a regular visitor to India, a recent convert to the internet and the joys of Google, and now an expert on all things Indian.  She explains the country of which she is uncritically proud to her sceptical, querulous husband, who realises pretty early on that although he may look the part, he is actually 100% foreign.

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Mrs. Singh wants only to prove to her husband that India is modern.  And better than China.

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It is a masterstroke making this thin, sharp-tongued woman her husband’s assistant, for not only does it make for great humour, it also allows us to get to know Mrs. Singh better.

She finally steps out from her husband’s shadow, and becomes a brilliant character in her own right.IMG_9407

Like any first time visitor to Mumbai, the good Inspector is taken aback at the smell, the dirt, the crowds, the noise.

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Other than eating good authentic Indian food, Inspector Singh has very few desiderata.  Avoid Delhi belly and have a ride in an Ambassador car, basically.

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Ambassadors, alas, are not to be part of his Mumbai experience :IMG_9401

The plot is a clever one, keeping us guessing until the very last pages, and the ending is unexpected.  But then, Ms Flint’s endings always are.  What a clever writer she is.

I happen to know Mumbai pretty well, having lived there for several years, and so can attest to the veracity of the writer’s observations and descriptions.

What an accomplished story teller Ms Flint is, putting her finger so easily and yet so firmly on the pulse of India :

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The matching turbans and Nehru jackets are not unique to Mumbai, and up here in Delhi (where I live) they are very much a definite “statement” way of dressing.  Ms Flint is spot on.

 

Another great read, an exciting whodunnit, an exuberant foray into India and weddings and religion and progress and poverty.

And, of course, we get to spend more time with Mrs. Singh.

As I said at the outset, the good Inspector might just have to look to his laurels.

 

If you would like to buy the book, you can do so now, by clicking on the link below:

Inspector Singh Investigates: A deadly Cambodian crime spree by Shamini Flint

I am an unabashed fan of the Inspector Singh series, so please don’t misunderstand me when I say that “A deadly Cambodian crime spree” is possibly the best book in the series thus far.

The previous three books are all brilliant reads, don’t get me wrong.  Good, funny, insightful, all-round great detective novels.

But the Cambodian story reaches new heights.

Not only is it a cracking whodunnit, as we have come to expect from Ms Flint, but in this book we see Inspector Singh confront issues of morality on a colossal scale.  And in the process, we learn so much more about this larger than life man, whom up until now we know delights in irritating his Chinese bosses as he stubbornly refuses to conform to the Singaporean notion of policing.

But in this book we see him out of his usual world and confronted with the on-going trauma of a collective genocide that makes his hunt for the murderer of a trial witness at times seem a puny task. What is one death amongst so many millions?

But Inspector Singh has his own moral touchstone. He is a policeman and as such he will hunt down the killer of one man, whilst attending the court hearings into the genocide trials.

Sent to be the ASEAN watchdog at the War Crimes Tribunal in Phonm Penh, the Singaporean Sikh copper enters a realm of such collective evil and horror that he (and we the reader) often recoil in disbelief at the testimony we listen to. This was one of the aspects of this book that differentiates it from its predecessors – the delving into the history of this poor benighted country.

But all this is not to say that our good Inspector has lost his zest for life. True, Cambodia and the things he hears in court shake this good man to his moral core, but that doesn’t stop him being hungry all the time, and irritated that his trademark white sneakers get dirty as he pounds the dusty streets of Phonm Penh.

He hates the local food, hates the heat, is captivated by a beautiful, enigmatic Cambodian woman called Sovann, and, if the truth be known, he may just have met his match in his local sidekick, the feisty, outspoken, hard-working, driven Chhean.  She is a brilliant character, an orphan searching for her own missing family, and outspokenly contemptuous of the Cambodian police and the Cambodian government.

This delightful young lady is also unable to restrict herself to the limited role of being Singh’s interpreter.  Thank goodness that Chhean doesn’t just stick to translating from Khmer for the good Punjabi Inspector, because her no nonsense approach and her ability to deliver great hit-the-nail-on-the-head oneliners are one of the many joys of this book.

In Menhay, the embattled local policeman tasked to ensure the tribunal is seen to run efficiently, we have a fascinating man.  Stubborn, honest in a country where an honest cop is, seemingly, an uber-rare commodity, we watch the growing relationship between Singh and Menhay, as they are made joint in charge of the murder investigation that threatens the future of the tribunal.

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As Inspector Singh delves deeper into the nitty gritty of Cambodia, he reflects (almost wistfully) on clean little Singapore :

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He is also forced –  for a moment –  to reflect on the nature of family.  So many Cambodians are desperately searching for their loved ones or for closure about their disappearnce.  Chhean, poor girl, has no family and would love one.  Inspector Singh has a rare, fleeting moment of familial insight :

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I loved this book, not only for the story and the brilliant plot, for the trademark humour and Singh’s observations about Cambodia, but also for the fact that this enjoyable story is encased within a wider scenario. I was moved by the horrors we hear about, and, like the good Inspector, ashamed that I knew so little about the recent history of this country.  Inspector Singh is growing in stature before our eyes – he may also be growing in girth, too – and he gets simply more and more delightful.

The ending of the book is spectacular.

Another excellent novel, and one that I cannot recommend too highly.

If you would like to buy the book after reading this review, simply click on the link below:

Inspector Singh investigates : The Singapore School of Villainy by Shamini Flint

Yup, guilty as charged

I am indeed becoming a bit of an Inspector Singh junkie, having just polished off the third in the series in the space of a week.

And books 4-6 are downloaded and ready to go.

In the third book in the series, Inspector Singh is on home turf, trying to find out who murdered a lawyer in a big international law firm.  Questioning highly trained lawyers was never going to be a cake walk and the good Inspector finds himself tackling a wall of corporate solidarity.  But, as he soon discovers, his irritating orders to investigate in the lawyers’ offices rather than at police HQ, to try and keep the press off the trail, does have some unexpected benefits:
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Unlike the first two books in the series, where the overweight, chain-smoking, beer-loving detective was working overseas, first in Malaysia and then in Indonesia, in “The Singapore School of Villainy ” we get to see Inspector Singh in his home environment. And that means we finally get to meet Mrs. Singh, a woman who is very concerned about her reputation within the Singaporean Sikh community.  Since one of the lawyers who may be a possible suspect is not only a young unmarried Sikh boy, but also one to whom she is very, very distantly related, it is especially galling that her husband is seemingly unable to nail the culprit, when all the world and its wife and the local press and her sisters knows who has done it. (The wife.  Or the second wife. Open and shut case.)

Here Mrs. Singh defends the young Sikh man she doesn’t know –  but he is a Sikh, and is very very distant family, from India :

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As in the previous two novels, Inspector Singh has a sidekick appointed to work with him – and cleverly, this is never the same person –  and it is always someone who is initially very uncomfortable around his unorthodox way of working.  And this being Singapore, the young local policeman seconded to this murder investigation is beyond nervous at his boss’s unconventional approach and what it might do to his own shiny-new career prospects.

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For this is, after all, Singapore, a place where there are relatively few murders, and hardly ever a high profile one.

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Singh, too, initially despairs of Corporal Fong, who keeps jumping to attention and is terrified of putting a foot wrong.

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Ms Flint is, as ever, spot-on-perfect with he characterisation of the Chinese, the ex-pats, the Indians and the Filipinas who people this whodunnit.

One suspects that she doesn’t have much time for the entitled culture of European ex-pats.

Or perhaps it is just the portly Inspector Singh who doesn’t:

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Ms Flint’s description of the hefty Singh sisters is oh-so-accurate:
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I live in India, in New Delhi, so the baggy-trousered matrons ring true, as do the flappy arms:

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This third novel in the series brings us closer to understanding Inspector Singh the man, as opposed to Inspector Singh the cheerfully rule-bending policeman who irritates the living daylights out of his superiors.  We see him, for example, in the presence of his wife, and sprawled in his comfy chair at home, and in this book, on his home turf, he seems to be more personally concerned about some of his suspects.  The end of the novel is bleaker and darker and more moving than anything we have seen of Inspector Singh thus far.  He becomes a more rounded character in this book (no pun intended), moving beyond his fat wheezy persona to a man with deep emotions, and he is all the more endearing for it.

But nevertheless, Singh the slightly ridiculous caricatural character (and fully aware of his own image) is as funny as ever:

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He is nobody’s fool, and is realistic enough to know that he is a square peg in a round hole – an unorthodox Indian cop in an orderly Chinese set up:

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Anyway, that’s enough from me.  I’m worried that if I share any more thoughts with you I may inadvertently spoil the plot, which is – as ever – a cracker, keeping you guessing until the last chapter.  Actually, if I can boast a wee bit, I sort-of-guessed who the murder might be, but, like the good Inspector, didn’t want it to be true.

Great read.

Recommended.

Go on, order the book right now.  You won’t regret it.  And if you want to order Book 1 and Book 2, just click on the relevant links.

Inspector Singh Investigates : A most peculiar Malaysian murder

Tell you, gotta love the internet and this whole global village vibe.

Here is the tale of an online comment from a South African friend in Cape Town, about a book I reviewed, sitting here in Delhi, about Shanghai (you are following me here?) in which she recommended Shamini Flint’s books about a Singaporean detective.  After reading just the first book, I am already a loyal fan.  Books 2 and 3 already downloaded and ready to go.

Inspector Singh is going to be a great character, and a hugely likeable one at that. I just know it.

A middle aged, overweight Singaporean Sikh, we meet him at Changi Airport, waiting to fly to Malaysia, where he has been sent to work on a case that sounds distinctly like a poisoned chalice.

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Alan Lee, a wealthy Malaysian tycoon has been shot, and his estranged Singaporean wife, with whom he was locked in a bitter religious-based custody battle, has been arrested for his murder.  And that is why Inspector Singh is in Kuala Lumpur. To try and find who murdered Alan Lee and to try and protect the interests of his fellow citizen, Chelsea Liew.

Inspector Singh is fully aware that he is regarded as an oddity in the Singapore police force – he knows he is considered as the unofficial “most likely to be forced into early retirement” candidate.  And this tricky, convoluted case, which has all of Malaysia and Singapore gripped by its high-voltage drama and religious implications, is his, and his alone, to solve.

Just look at Inspector Singh for a moment.

He is a smoker in Singapore, of all nanny states to live in.

He wears white sneakers instead of sensible black shoes.

He has (possibly) too many pens in his shirt pocket.

He eats too much, he smokes too much, and he really can’t be bothered with excessive procedure.

He is a guts feel copper of the old school, and only wants to get results – arrest the murderer – regardless of political fallout and considerations.

As I said, hugely likeable and an instantly great character.

Ms Flint is a confident and eloquent storyteller, and shines lights on many aspects of Malaysia, as only an insider can.  Religion, for one, and the frightening ramifications it can have for a family.  The environment –  the brutal deforestation of Borneo is a very palpable presence in this murder investigation.  The author highlights cultural nuances and differences with a consummate light hand.

Inspector Singh –  a Sikh, of Indian origin –  is wearily aware of global ignorance about dark men in turbans.

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Chelsea Liew, caught up in a from-beyond-the-grave tale of horrors, develops before our very eyes from a resigned monosyllabic hostile victim to a woman of huge courage, whom we cheer for all the way – well I did, and as for the final glimpse we have of her…Don’t worry, no plot-spoiler here, but our final moments with Chelsea are heart-stopping and gripping, that’s all I’ll say.

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Read this great book for a thoroughly enjoyable whodunnit, as well as for a portrait of a country and her people.

Hugely recommended.

If you feel like buying the book after reading the review, it couldn’t be easier.  Simply click on the links below:

A Loyal Character Dancer by Qiu Xiaolong

I am not sure at which point enthusiasm becomes embarrassing, but I’m going to risk it anyway.

In Shanghai last week to visit my son who works there, I re-read all the Inspector Chen novels with great pleasure – as I have said before in other book reviews, there is nothing quite like being in the very place you are reading about.  It’s all the delightful, insider feeling of “Ah yes, I know exactly where that street/building/park is…”

And thus it was, when I found myself, early one misty April morning, in the little park on the Bund where Inspector Chen comes across a body, that I felt seriously excited.  I knew exactly where the action took place.  I, too, was there in the cool pre-dawn mist, listening to the clock tower chime, watching people practice tai-chi…yes, I should probably stop right here, before this all becomes too gushing.

For the record, the Bund Park is now way smaller than it was in the early 1990s, the time of the novel, but there I was at the Waibaidu end of the park

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I heard the music

FullSizeRender-1The colonial architecture along the Bund is even more impressive now than it (probably) was when Chen Cao saw it :

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Chief Inspector Chen is an eminently likeable man.  A bachelor, an intellectual, a man who does his duty as a policeman even though it might oftentimes run counter to the all-important political needs of The Party.  He is something of an enigma to his colleagues –  a quiet, low-key, almost-reluctant policeman, who would rather be writing poetry much of the time.  This air of impenetrability around Chief Inspector Chen means that it is all the more to the credit of his assistant Detective Yu, that the latter trusts him so instinctively, and watches his back at every twist and turn.

Inspector Yu is a wonderful character.  No jolly side-kick here, but an older, poorly paid man whose youth was wasted by the Cultural Revolution, leaving him stuck without an education in a low-paying job.  His initial resentment of his younger, intellectual, better-paid boss has all but evaporated now, and even though he cannot always fathom his boss, he admires him and is fiercely loyal.

There is a death and a missing person in this book, but neither we nor the Shanghai police are sure whether they are connected.

What is fascinating about the Chief Inspector Chen books is not simply the whodunnit aspects of the stories, but also their setting –  Shanghai in the early 1990s, with the memory of Tiananmen still fresh in everyone’s minds, and the gradual, tentative emergence of capitalism, despite the strong grip The Party, Internal Security and the all-powerful state holds over the country.

Chen Cao is a man caught in the midst of these changes.  Young enough to have escaped the ravages and the waste of the Cultural Revolution – a theme that is a leitmotif through Qiu Xiaolong’s writing – and a man seen by the party to have a future, and treated accordingly, he is nevertheless a government employee on a paltry salary, battling his way on and off hot, over-crowded buses and metros, and often amazed by the way the other half lives.

Chen Cao is deputed to accompany an American marshal, Catherine Rohn, who is coming to Shanghai to escort the wife of a Chinese man the Americans have in a witness protection programme.  Feng Dexiang is thought to be involved in human trafficking to the US, but has decided to cooperate with the Americans to save his skin –  but won’t talk unless his wife, Wen Liping joins him.  So Inspector Rohn, a pretty blonde Chinese speaking young woman, has been sent out to escort Wen to the US.

Except, Wen cannot be found.

And that is all I am going to tell you, otherwise it will spoil the plot for you.

There is travel to Fujian province in search of Wen, there are long train journeys, there is food galore, there is the barest hint of romance, and there is the totally fascinating, ever-evolving city of Shanghai, with its karaoke bars and banquets, its desperate housing shortage and traffic jams, with its tea houses and, as long as we have Chen Cao as our likeable hero, lots of poetry.

Lots and lots of poetry.

And food.

And tea.

 

Highly recommended.

Published originally by Soho Press, 01 Sep 2003

If this review has encouraged you to read the book for yourself (and I hope it has) you can buy it here and now:

SALVATION OF A SAINT by KEIGO HIGASHINO

A couple of years ago I read and reviewed the first novel by Keigo Higashino, “The Devotion of Suspect X” which I loved.  Actually let me clarify that statement –  this was the author’s first novel translated into English.

Comparisons are odious, I think the saying goes, but it must be said that the author’s second translated novel “Salvation of a saint,” whilst clever and full of twists and turns right until the last chapter, is not as gripping as the earlier book.

That said, this is still a great read, a whodunnit that keeps you guessing right to the end.

A man, Yoshitaka Mashiba, is found dead, a day or so after he had announced his intention of leaving his wife.

His wife Ayane would seem to be the logical suspec

But she was hundreds of miles away when the murder took place.

And from that initial conundrum, we follow the investigations of Detective Kusanagi and his assistant the young female detective Kaoru Utsumi, as they try to work out what would (almost) seem to be the perfect crime.  Kusanagi refuses to believe that the beautiful widow could be implicated in anyway, and this tends to cloud his otherwise fine judgment. Utsumi relies a lot on her female intution –  and she is usually spot on, it must be said – and as a result the 2 colleagues often disagree about their investigation.

They both consult Professor Yukawa, a brainy laid-back university professor and a friend of Kusanagi since their student days.  Over many, many cups of coffee –  progressing from downright awful to acceptable as the novel unfolds – the Professor guides them and helps them, approaching the puzzle of who murdered Yoshitaka Mashiba from a purely academic, theoretical standpoint.  He treats the mystery almost as a mathematical formula, unlike the 2 detectives who are clues-driven.

Fascinating.

What I missed in this novel, as compared to the first, was the palpable presence of Tokyo.  Although the city is obviously there and present in the book, it isn’t as much of an elemental, intrinsic part of the story as in “The Devotion of Suspect X.” But what is omnipresent is the (naturally) very Japanese-ness of the police and the civilians they suspect of murder. There is a calmness and a sense of restraint that you would never find in – say – an American crime thriller. No shouting, no swearing, no rushing around. Everything is measured and balanced. Policemen apologise to their suspects for possibly upsetting them. Suspects hardly show any irritation at being questioned over and over again.

Recommended for cleverness and for the atmospheric, cool, sparse writing.

Published in 2008, the English translation was published in 2012.

To order the book now, just click on the either of the links below:

THE DEAD AMERICAN by JAKE NEEDHAM

The good news: Inspector Samuel Tay of the Singapore CID is back, and is turning into a regular old curmudgeon.

The bad news: since this third instalment in what I pray is going to be an endless series of novels, was only published a few weeks ago, there may be a bit of a wait now until the 4th book appears.

No pressure, Mr. Needham, you understand.

Oh Sam.  What a bloke.

In this book, the Inspector hits 50, with only his resigned quietly likeable sidekick, the long suffering Sergeant Kang for company.

All of Sam’s old fogey-isms are now an inherent part of his character, and I, for one, love him all the more for them.

Not great with technology:

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Not mad about the Americans:

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A defiant smoker in a country that tried to outlaw the habit as much as possible :

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Like the previous 2 novels in the Inspector Tay series, “The Dead American” opens with panache:

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The annoyingly familiar Emma  –  an American journalist –  arrives at his doorstep to enlist his help in solving what she considers to be a mystery.  A young American has been found hanging in his apartment.  The Singaporean authorities say he committed suicide.  She isn’t convinced.  And against his initial better judgement, Sam Tay gets slowly dragged into the mystery as to why this young software engineer (working, to Tay’s befuddlement, on the technology behind driverless cars) would be murdered.

As we have now come to expect with these great whodunnits, Singapore is a brilliant backdrop.  Way too clean and orderly for Sam’s liking, and full of people too ready to accept the official line, and then toe it.

I mentioned in my last review that such is the force of Sam’s personality that he makes a non-smoker like me cheer every time he lights up.  For the truth of the matter is, that despite its best efforts, the Singaporean government just cannot stop Sam loving his tobacco fix, and his pre-smoking rituals:

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This book takes us through the malls and hotels of Singapore suffering from regional pollution, but –  true to form –  Inspector Tay is unimpressed by the official hoopla:

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We walk through lobbies and coffee shops, we walk along the river front, we see the “new” Singapore through the eyes of Sam, who hankers for the old days.  In what his now his trademark style, the author seamlessly mixes real Singapore with fictional characters, an extremely effective technique.

We also meet Sam’s mother, who is fast becoming a bit of a rockstar in her own right.  (You’ll see what I mean when you read the book.)  And read it you should, if you love good witty writing that makes you smile all the time, a brilliant unconventional detective, and an insight into how one of Asia’s most successful countries tick.

Can’t wait for the next book.

I’m a big fan.

I’m also a big fan of Jake Needham, who has managed to irritate a country, and get himself into a bit of a spot in the bargain.  Let him tell you in his own words.

If you would like to buy “The Dead American”, just click below.  Technology that might well perplex Sam, but you all know how it works.  And as you now realise, it’s only available as an e-book.

And this week, guess what, I read about Google’s driverless cars.

 

THE UMBRELLA MAN by JAKE NEEDHAM

Having developed a bit of an infatuation with Inspector Samuel Tay, right from the moment I encountered him in “The Ambassador’s Wife”, I am happy to announce that he is still every bit my hero/anti-hero in the second of what one hopes will be an endless series of crime whodunnits.

Just like the first Inspector Tay novel, “The Umbrella Man” starts out with a bang, plunging the reader straight into the action. This time, however, the bang isn’t just  a metaphor.  Singapore explodes, as a series of bombs rips the heart out of Orchard Road.  The descriptions of the terror and destruction of one of the world’s major shopping streets is chilling.

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Sometimes, where you are physically when you read a book, or write down your thoughts (like here, in this review) does impact you.  So the fact that I am writing this while my daughter tells me from her carphone that there are bomb threats in Delhi, as she drives home through lunatic traffic, only made these scenes of the book even more frightening.

Mr. Needham skilfully weaves fact and fiction together, putting his fictional characters in real life Singaporean locations.  When he talks of  Ngee Ann City, one knows exactly where the drama is taking place.  The corner of Scott and Orchard Road, and the poor Marriott hotel, which featured so unflatteringly in the opening scene of “The Ambassador’s Wife”, bear the brunt of the explosions.  But who would do this?  Who would attack Singapore?  What had this tiny country done to “deserve” such an attack?

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The heart is ripped out of the tiny island state, and Inspector Tay is eager to be part of the team investigating this unprecedented horror.  But his previous run in with the Americans in “The Ambassador’s Wife” means that he is off the team.  The Americans bring pressure to bear and the Singaporeans bow to them, and Inspector Tay of the CID is sidelined.  And is furious.

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Never a big fan of the Americans at the best of times, this situation only inflames his temper and Grumpy-Old-Man-ism:

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He sulks, he mooches around, his poor Sergeant bears the brunt of his temper :

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And of course he thinks and smokes and thinks some more and smokes a lot more and…but I am not going to spoil the plot, never fear.

Themes that began in the first book are continued here –  his dislike for the Americans for example.  His love of smoking, which is such a no-no in Singapore that he takes a positive pleasure in smoking wherever and whenever he can.  It is a testimony to Mr. Needham’s writing and to Inspector Tay’s brilliantly grumpy nature, that even though I hate smoking, I secretly cheer each time Sam lights up where he isn’t supposed to, or drops a butt where is is forbidden.

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And it is this instinctive bridling against authority that leads to one of the dilemmas/controversies/call it what you will/ surrounding this book.

Basically, the powers that be in Singapore were a tad under-whelmed by the portrayal of their country in Mr. Needham’s first Inspector Tay book, and so this second novel was never published there.  Here, read the author’s own words on the subject –  he explains it way better.

Mr. Needham clearly knows Singapore and Singaporeans in great depth, and is not shy about speaking his mind.  Well, Inspector Tay’s mind :

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Another great story.

Sam Tay is way up there with my favourite literary men.

And I can’t wait for the next book.

Enthusiastically recommended, and if you feel so inlined, you can order the book right now, by clicking on one of the links below:

MATABELE DAWN by SAAD BIN JUNG

Saad bin Jung, the author of the recently published “Matabele Dawn” is a friend, a state of affairs that can sometimes make reviewing a book a rather tricky exercise. Treading the fine line between friendship and truth.  That kind of dilemma.

No such dilemma here.

Saad is a well known, shout-it-from-the-rooftops lover of Africa, and the bush, and wildlife, and the great outdoors.

Since we left South Africa nine oh-so-long years ago, there hasn’t been a day when I didn’t pine for the bush, or for the excitement of being on safari.  So the wonderful depiction of Africa that is the Matabele half of this book resonated completely.  Loved it.  Saad’s descriptions bring Africa to vivid life:

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In his book, Mr. bin Jung has two narratives, of Africa and India, that are generations apart, yet intertwined.

Both stories are also partly “out of Africa” and “out of India” in that they are stories of children of mixed marriages, and of mixed faiths, of foreigners living and loving and dying in different continents, far from their home.  Two men are born, decades apart, into chaos and disorder, into worlds of danger and change, and it is the chronicle of their lives that is “Matabele Dawn.”

Initially, I was a little startled by the very modern speaking voice of some of Mr. bin Jung’s 19th century characters, but then I thought – what is preferable?  Modern vernacular or a flood of “forsooths and by gads.”

Enjoy this book for the vividness of the language and story, for the enthusiasm and obvious love for two continents that poor forth.

When Mr. bin Jung launched his book this week in Delhi (where I live) the occasion was exactly as one would have expected. Roars of laughter at the stories told by the chief guests (All 3 of them.  Well, why ever not have 3 chief guests if you can?).  Not a moment of pompousness. Just laughter and a love for life.

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The author’s dedication in my book says it all:

“Here’s hoping you enjoy reading this half as much as I enjoyed writing it.”

Published by Rumour books, “Matabele Dawn” costs Rs599 and you can order it right now, by clicking on the link below :

And here is the link to buy the Kindle version :

The Ambassador’s Wife by Jake Needham

I might just have a bit of a crush on Inspector Samuel Tay, of the Singapore CID.

Not because he’s tall dark and handsome, or any of that clichéd nonsense.

On the contrary, Inspector Tay is a slightly overweight, late-middle-aged smoker, and  – if the truth be known –  probably Singapore’s home grown version of a Grumpy Old Man.  Hates mobile phones.  Hates immediate familiarity.  Bit of a Luddite, if the truth be known.  But he makes me laugh out loud as he stomps around his island state, and that is a wonderful thing, to smile and laugh as you read.

So, yes. I am already a huge Inspector Tay fan after reading the first in what I hope will be an endless series of novels.

The Inspector grumbles a lot – about not being able to smoke, about technology he doesn’t understand, about the ruthless razing of the old Singapore and the imposition of a sanitised version, about how boring this pristine little city state it…it’s just that he doesn’t grumble out loud too much, since he hardly talks to anyone.  Being a bit of a loner, you understand.  So he just grumbles to us, the complicit reader.

Sam Tay has all the makings of a brilliant hero – almost an anti-hero in fact –  since he can’t shoot to save his life, doesn’t think much of most of his colleagues, loathes most Americans, is inarticulate around women…yup, a regular grumpy old man.  And what a fabulous character he is.

The ever inventive creator of Inspector Tay, the oh-so-clever Jake Needham, has written a marvellous whodunnit, but with lots of twists.

I love the way Mr. Needham seamlessly blends fact and fiction.  His fictional detectives and diplomats and victims inhabit the real identifiable world of Singapore, and despite his jibes at the expense of the Lion City, it’s clear that Mr. Needham knows the city like the back of his hand.  Sam wanders in and out of bookshops and coffee shops and the subway and the 5 star hotels, all of which exist for real, and he lives in Emerald Hill, which is real, and as I read the book, I realised that on my next trip to Singapore I shall probably laugh out loud when I see the Marriott, the scene of a horrific crime in the opening pages of the novel :

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sam2See what I mean?

Obviously I then googled the Marriott (which I thought I had remembered correctly, and I had) and voila, here it is:

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And of all the curious things –  out of all the dozens of images online for the Marriott, the one I chose (above) was, without realising it, from Jake Needham’s blog – coincidence, coincidence.  Naturally, I then read the newsletter, and what fun it is too.  Since Mr. Needham explains his story way better than I can ever do, here you go, the link to a very wry piece of writing about the locales used in the book.  Good fun.

Yes, you’re right.  Back to the book.

A woman has been brutally murdered  –  very, very brutally murdered and disfigured –  and it will come as no surprise to you that Sam Tay is squeamish and hates the sight of blood.  What a man.

I am not going to spoil the plot of this great book, obviously.

It’s a fascinating whodunnit.

And even more than that, perhaps, it’s an amazing insight into whatever still remains of the heart and soul of Singapore, through the jaundiced eyes of Sam Tay, who is all set to become my favourite detective as he grumbles and cusses his way through Singapore, smoking where he’s not allowed to, deliberately dropping his cigarette butts on the ground, battling technology as well as murder, kicking against the system…

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Anyway, enough from me.

Read this book and meet the best Grumpy Old man in Asia.

You can buy the book right now by clicking on the link below.  Couldn’t be easier.