Watch out, Inspector Singh.
Your redoubtable wife, Mrs. Singh, might just be muscling in on your territory, and in the process proving to be quite the scene-stealer.
I have read all the Inspector Singh books, loved them all, and reviewed most of them here in this blog.
Indeed in a review of one of the later novels, I did mention that Mrs. Singh was beginning to steal the limelight.
Initially I thought it would be disappointing to have this whodunit set in London, because Asia plays such an important part in the other novels – not only as background but also as context.
But Ms Flint is too skilful a writer to let her good Inspector stray too far from Asia – in this case in its UK avatar of Southall and the adjoining suburbs of London, which are home to a huge Indian and Pakistani diaspora.
Inspector Singh, I should point out, to readers who haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting him, is an overweight, smoking, opinionated Indian Singaporean. He has no truck with political correctness and frequently irritates his Chinese colleagues.
So his assignment to London to be part of “a Commonwealth task force on policing in a multi-racial, multi-religious context” is exactly the kind of conference to irritate him.
His boss lays out the advantages of Inspector Singh being part of the task force, namely:
“They’re sending us an expert on terrorist infiltration of in-country communities,” he continued. He clearly felt that it was an exchange in which he came off the better. One overweight, opinionated policeman in exchange for Scotland Yard’s best.
His subordinate pulled a face. Inspector Singh of the Singapore police had no gripe with a policeman’s lot when he was demonstrating yet again that he was Singapore’s finest investigator with the best solve rate on the force, a statistic that kept him in employment despite the hearty antipathy of his superiors. What he disliked was being sent on irrelevant matters to far away countries with poor food, poor heating and strict smoking laws.
“Why me?” he asked, unable to keep the plaintive notes out of his voice.
“It’s not just you – policeman from other Commonwealth countries will be present too.
“But we have nothing in common with them.”
“Nonsense, we share a common language, institutions and heritage.”
“Despots, extremists and bureaucrats.”
And so it is that the unwilling Inspector goes to London, with Mrs. Singh tagging along, determined to see the sights and meet all her extended family in Southall.
The good Inspector’s brief does sound pretty unappetising for a boots-on-the-ground policeman like him:
“Surely the best solution is to actually catch the murderer?” he asks his British counterpart.
“We are here to explore whether the investigation might have had more success if it had engaged with the wider community and submit a paper with recommendations to the conference.”
So Inspector Singh sets out to engage with the family of an unsolved murder case – a young girl of Pakistani origin. And, of course, his journey of looking at “the cultural framework of the investigation”.
He meets Pakistani-origin families, Indian-origin families, and his British counterparts. He goes to pubs and tries, hilariously, to buy some cigarettes in a tobacconists, but a busybody scolds him – Sikhs are not supposed to smoke.
And he gets drawn ever deeper into the unsolved “cold” case – despite his brief only being to see if the family and the community were happy with the way the original investigation had been handled. And then the cold case is no longer cold, as a murderous pattern begins to emerge.
There are darker threads woven into this otherwise funny, clever book, with the story of a returned jihadist, and his reintegration into London life.
Then, of course, there is Mrs. Singh who inserts herself into her husband’s investigation with worrying results. I’ll leave it there, so as not to plot-spoil.
This book is not as light-hearted as the earlier books, and the murders we hear about are definitely more brutal than in the previous stories, but it is, nonetheless, a smashing read.
Ms. Flint is a consummate story teller, and the pace and momentum build up throughout the book to a truly nail-baiting finish.