Oh, the joy of discovering a wonderful new series of whodunnits.
After reading just this first book in the Inspector Singh series, I am already a loyal fan. 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.
“Inspector Singh had a strong dislike of physical contact with strangers. Unfortunately, his gut made it difficult for him not to encroach onto their seats. His shirt was wilting and his shirt pocket, full of pens, was tearing slightly at the corner. Patches of damp were visible under his armpit and just above his belly. Only his white sneakers looked as fresh as when he had put them on before setting out for the office – blissfully unaware that he was about to be assigned to the case that he had, only that morning, been reading about in the papers. He remembered feeling sorry for the policeman who had the dismal task of finding the murderer of Alan Lee. He felt much sorry and now that he knew it was himself.”
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 the 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 a light 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.
“He sighed again, causing his neighbour, a middle-aged white woman, to glance at him surreptitiously. Singh knew what she was thinking. A dark man in a turban who seemed worried and preoccupied? She was hoping not to be on the same flight as him. Singh had neither the patience nor the inclination to explain to her that the six metres of clothes that he had wound around his head expertly that morning into a black pointy turban reflected his heritage as a Sikh. It did not indicate terrorist proclivities and neither, for that matter, did anyone else’s turban.”
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.
“Chelsea Lieu was a Singapore citizen. She held a Singapore identity card. She had married a Malaysian and had lived in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Bangsar for the last 20 years. She had three children who held Malaysian passports. But she was Singaporean. And she was accused of murdering her ex-husband. As a rule, the arrest of a Singaporean by any foreign country would not have involved the Singapore police. The embassy might have had a quick look if requested to ensure that the citizen in trouble was getting the rudiments of due process, but nothing more than that.
This case was different though. The religious overtones, custody battles, public outcry in both countries and political sensitivities between Malaysia and Singapore had resulted in a request by the Singapore government – keen to be seen to be doing something – to the Malaysian government – keen to be seen to above be above the fray – that a Singaporean policeman be seconded to the investigation. So here he was, sitting in a grubby room in the Malaysian Police Bukit Aman headquarters, with a file 3 inches thick, feeling very sorry for himself.”
Read this great book for a thoroughly enjoyable whodunnit, as well as for a portrait of a country and her people.
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