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:
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.
Mrs. Singh wants only to prove to her husband that India is modern. And better than China.
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.
Like any first time visitor to Mumbai, the good Inspector is taken aback at the smell, the dirt, the crowds, the noise.
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.
Ambassadors, alas, are not to be part of his Mumbai experience :
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 :
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.
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