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