The Ambassador’s Wife by Jake Needham

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 :

“The Singapore Marriot was a thirty-three story octagonal-shaped tower crowned by a gigantic Chinese style roof that loomed over the corner of Scotts and Orchard Roads, the busiest intersection in the city. The roof was no doubt supposed to soften the building’s appearance by making it look vaguely reminiscent of a traditional Chinese pagoda. Tay thought that was ridiculous. What it really made the building look like was a giant dildo. Worse, the stupid roof was green with something right at its peak that resembled a red pom-pom. The Marriot not only looked like a giant dildo, it looked like a giant dildo wearing a green rubber with a red top on it.

Merry fucking Christmas everybody.”

See what I mean?

Obviously I then googled the Marriott (which I thought I had remembered correctly, and I had) and voilà, 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…

“Buildings like that were all gone, as gone as if they had never existed at all, and now the city was mostly somewhere he did not know, somewhere he had never been. For over thirty years the people who decided such things, the bastards, had been tearing down glorious structures just because they were old. Sometimes they even replaced them with new structures touted as modern versions of whatever they replaced. They never were, of course. They never were anything, really, other than just new. Through the merciless grinders of progress the soul of a city had passed, along even with Tay’s own soul, and each of them had emerged as…well, he really had no idea.”

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.

One comment

  1. That is unquestionably the coolest review of THE AMBASSADOR’S WIFE I’ve ever read. I only discovered it by accident when I was tidying up my website today and stumbled over a link to it in the unposted comments. I have no idea why it was there since my website doesn’t have comments. Odd. Regardless, thank you so much, Christine. I’m glad you liked meeting Sam as much as I liked writing him.

    Quite a few years ago when the book was first published, I had a (very) short correspondence with someone in Delhi named Vir Sanghvi who I understood was a reasonably prominent journalist and TV personality there. He wrote at least one online column about THE AMBASSADOR’S WIFE in which, oddly enough, he said a great many of the very same things you did.

    Please get in touch with me through the email above. I’d love to tell you about the more recent Tay novels and the reaction to them in Singapore…

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