AND BROTHER IT’S STARTING TO RAIN by JAKE NEEDHAM

I am a card carrying Jake Needham fan, and of all his wonderful cast of characters, I think Samuel Tay is possibly my favourite.

I love Mr.Tay’s outspoken, curmudgeonly take on his home country Singapore, but it was precisely this very fact that slightly marred my enjoyment of the latest book in this series.

Because there is very little of Singapore in this book.

I got my Asian kick through the adventures in Pattaya and Hong Kong, of course, and since I was actually in Hong Kong last week when I read the book, that certainly added another dimension.

Mr. Needham is at his unsurpassable best describing the gritty neighbourhoods, the heat and the noise of Asia.

Not going to plot-spoil by telling you what happens. Suffice it to say it’s a clever wide-ranging story, with a distinctly worrying premise, which bears witness to the crazy political times we are all living through.

I enjoyed the book.

I truly did.

I enjoyed seeing Samuel out of context.

But I missed Singapore.

Here’s the link to buy this 5th book in the smashing Samuel Tay series.

Can’t wait for the 6th instalment!

If you’re not already up to speed with the Samuel Tay series, here’s a link to my review of the first book.

Enjoy 🙂


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:

IMG_0439

IMG_0431

Not mad about the Americans:

IMG_0445

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

IMG_0444

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

IMG_0441

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:

IMG_0443

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:

IMG_0442

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.

IMG_0323

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?

IMG_0329

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.

IMG_0335

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

IMG_0333

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

IMG_0425

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.

IMG_0331

IMG_0332

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 :

IMG_0426

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:

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 :

sam1

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:

images (1)

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…

sam3

sam4

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.

 

 

THE KING OF MACAU by JAKE NEEDHAM

I clearly am a very late learner…

Having only recently discovered the wonderful detective novels of John Burdett, which are set in Bangkok, I have just this week made the acquaintance of yet another Asian based crime writer, Jake Needham.

I was in Hong Kong a few days ago, and decided I wanted something “regional” to read on the flight, and after a bit of judicious Googling, chanced upon “The King of Macau”.  Having recently re-visited Macau after a 25 year interval, and seen at rather distressing firsthand the change from a sleepy, quiet, slightly faded-around-the-edges old-fashioned Portuguese colony to a brash, crowded, noisy, bigger, re-invented kitschy Chinese gambling venue “The King of Macau” hit the spot.

photo 2

Jack Shepherd, the likeable main protagonist of the novel is a Hong Kong based American lawyer, and a case of suspected money laundering at one of the biggest casinos in Macau sees him travelling between the 2 former colonies, both now reintegrated into China.

The drawback of reviewing a crime novel is that you absolutely do not want any plot spoilers, so all I will say is that the pursuit of the suspected money laundering trail is an exciting, dramatic one.

Jack Shepherd knows his way around Southeast Asia (as does his author, Jake Needham) and yet even he is surprised to meet Freddy in Macau.  Freddy, aka…no, sorry, I Really can’t tell you, as that would seriously spoil your enjoyment of the second story line in this cleverly crafted book.

Suffice it to say, while reading the novel I googled Freddy and found (oh joy of joys) that he really does exist, and I learned lots of fascinating stuff that I never knew (but I won’t spoil it for you, worry not).

Then, after reluctantly finishing the book, I googled Stanley and Pansy Ho –  and yes, they too are real live people, which makes the author’s note at the end of the book fascinating :

2photo

1photo

 

 

This is a beautifully written book.  The plot rattles along at such a pace that you don’t want to put the book down – I had to force myself to, in order to sleep on my hideously timed overnight flight to Hong Kong – and Mr. Needham’s great love for Asia shows through, in moments of pure lyrical beauty :

photo 1

photo 3

photo 4

 

(Apologies for these uneven screen shots, taken from my Kindle).

We went to Macau on our honeymoon, and went back to celebrate our wedding anniversary there with our children.  Completely taken aback at the garishness of Macau –  and the way the little place had grown, literally, with all the landfill –  it was only when I stood on the balcony of our hotel, on our silver wedding anniversary, and looked out over the city by night, that I felt a connection to the old sleepy Macau of a quarter of a century ago.  And, just like Jack Shepherd, it was so beautiful that night that it took my breath away…

I love Mr.  Needham’s sense of gentle irony :

photo 5

 

A great read.

Thrilled to have found a new writer and a new Asian hero.

Thoroughly recommended.

Published in 2014.
If you now feel like reading this excellent book, nothing could be easier.  Just click on the link below :