Inspector Singh is home - and how he wishes he wasn-t. His wife nags him at breakfast and his superiors are whiling away their time by giving him his usual 'you're a disgrace to the Force' lecture. Fortunately for Singh, there is no rest for the wicked when he is called out to the murder of a senior partner at an international law firm, clubbed to death at his desk.
For those reading the Inspector Singh Investigates series in order, THE SINGAPORE SCHOOL OF VILLAINY is the third book. Given these are a series, is it necessary to read them in order? Whilst there's always something gained when reading books in the order that the author wrote them, this is a case where I'm not sure you need to be too obsessive about it. Of course, from the start you'll get to know the good Inspector a little more, but to be honest, there's not a lot of expansion of character going on here. It's obvious that Singh's constantly in trouble with his superiors, that he's a lone operator (think less lone wolf and more determined fox), that his wife doesn't understand him, that his methods are slightly unorthodox and that he's a "bit of a character".
What may help a little is to realise that Singh moves around quite a bit (the first book is set in Malaysia, the second in Bali) but in this book he's at home in Singapore. Which nobody, not his bosses, not his wife, not even Singh are particularly best pleased about. What may also help is to realise that despite Singh sounding suspiciously like an Asian Poirot wannabe, and the covers of the book seeming to signal something slightly on the cosier side of crime fiction, well... (sorry can't avoid the pun) you should never judge a book by its cover (or an Inspector by his description). You can, however rely on the suggestion that there's a sly sense of humour behind these books... something that is even more apparent if you're ever lucky enough to come across the author herself, who took to writing after a career in the law, but really could have been just as successful as a stand up comedian.
The Inspector Singh series tackles difficult themes, in different places, but with a tone and style that veers away from too much confrontation. Definitely not cosy, but equally not overly dark, Flint takes the reader into some tricky territory on occasions, using her Inspector Singh character as a foil for the worst excesses of humanity. A detective from the "ask a few awkward questions, appear at the worst time in the suspect's life" school of detecting, Singh's physique isn't going to allow him to do a lot of rushing around, and his personality doesn't fit that bill either. In THE SINGAPORE SCHOOL OF VILLAINY he's even more grumpy and more difficult, seemingly going out of his way to agitate everyone around him, whilst blithely believing that they are, in turn, out to annoy him every step of the way.
Part of the trick in enjoying these books is really all about setting your expectations correctly. If you are a huge fan of the very cosy; of mannered, polite and very English detecting, then Inspector Singh is probably not going to be totally to your taste. I also don't always come away from the books with an overwhelmingly strong sense of the individual places. But I do find myself warming to Inspector Singh. If you're a fan of slightly more edgy than just entertaining books, centred around a central character who's a little bit grumpy, a little bit rumpled, a little bit hot and bothered, more than a bit tricky, and more than occasionally a big bit slyly funny, then this could be the series for you.
A BALI CONSPIRACY MOST FOUL - Shamini Flint
Inspector Singh is back, but this time on secondment to Bali. A bomb has exploded and Singh has been sent to help with anti-terrorism efforts. But there's a slight problem: he knows squat about hunting terrorists. He's much better suited to solving murder!
When a body is discovered in the wreckage, killed by a bullet before the bomb went off, Singh should be the one to find the answers - especially with the help of a wily Australian copper by his side. But simple murders are never as simple as they seem - and this one has far-reaching global consequences.
The second Inspector Singh novel from Shamini Flint takes Singh to Bali to join the anti-terrorism efforts post a major bombing that ripped through the tourist areas. What exactly Singh is doing as part of a anti-terrorism squad is no clearer to him than it is to anybody else, but the body in the wreckage, shot dead before the bomb gives Singh the sort of case that he's used to solving - a straight-forward murder.
When I read the first book (A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER) I did comment "This book is definitely on the lighter side of crime fiction, I'll have to read the next couple that I have here to be able to say if that's an ongoing characteristic, but I'm guessing it's probably exactly where the books are heading." I suspect that the covers and the general persona of Inspector Singh doesn't help but lead you to draw that conclusion, but really, reading this outing, it's not exactly right. There's a light-handed touch with the characters and some lovely humour and reality about everyone in the books - but the subject matter in this case isn't light-hearted and it isn't cosy, and there are many elements in this book to make people sit up and take notice. There's quite a bit of skill here - keeping that balance between the light touch and the dark subject.
The character of Inspector Singh is beautifully complimented by his partner in the murder investigation - Bronwyn Taylor, Australian Federal Police member, a "big-boned woman (whatever that means), who unlike Singh has very little experience in investigating straight out murder scenes. Like Singh she's been sidelined by her superiors, like Singh, she can be a bit annoying. The overwhelming investigation of the terrorists behind the bomb plot gives Singh and Taylor the perfect under the radar environment in which to find out the truth behind this baffling shooting.
Harking back again to my earlier review I also commented "In future books I really hope that he hits his stride, embraces his inner grumpy old man and gets to grips with his surroundings. I'm also hoping that the next books have a little more leeway to introduce the world that Inspector Singh inhabits, as this first book did seem to have it's hands full introducing him." I'm pleased to say that Flint has definitely sharpened up the character of Singh. He's wonderfully grumpy (unless placated by a Bintang beer and a good meal), he's an expert at annoying just about everyone around him (sometimes accidentally) but always with supreme indifference. Singh and Taylor annoy each other in spades, whilst they also eventually manage to build a grudging respect for each other.
The setting in this book is also bought into much sharper focus - Bali's dual sides are drawn beautifully - tourist and local; the food, sights, sounds and rush and bustle of the place is almost visual in this book.
There's much to like about the way that this series is heading, not the least because there are now two more books that I'm really looking forward to reading!
Shamini is one of the International Guests of Honour at SheKilda Again 2011 in Melbourne in October
A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER - Shamini Flint
Inspector Singh is in a bad mood. He's been sent from his home in Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to solve a murder that has him stumped. Chelsea Liew - the famous Singaporean model - is on death row for the murder of her ex-husband. She swears she didn't do it, he thinks she didn't do it, but no matter how hard he tries to get to the bottom of things, he still arrives back at the same place - that Chelsea's husband was shot at point blank range, and that Chelsea had the best motivation to pull the trigger: he was taking her kids away from her.
Think Hercule Poirot in a Sikh turban and the tropical heat of Kuala Lumpur, but add a hefty dose of rumpled Columbo and I think that's the best description of Inspector Singh of the Singapore police that I can come up with. A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER is the first in this series from Singapore based author Shamini Flint.
This book is definitely on the lighter side of crime fiction, I'll have to read the next couple that I have here to be able to say if that's an ongoing characteristic, but I'm guessing it's probably exactly where the books are heading. Whilst there is a shooting murder in this book, it happens off-page, there's very little in the way of rushing around on the part of the main protagonist and whilst there is always the threat of the death penalty hanging over the chief suspect, there's a sense that Inspector Singh will, of course, save the day. Which he does with a hefty dose of gentle humour, quite questioning, observation and just enough prodding of various sore points. Or at least he sort of does. But more on plot later. It seems a more than reasonable expectation that the personality of the main character is going to inform each of his future investigations, and whilst Singh takes his job seriously, he's very much set up to be a "character".
Of course a debut book in a series has to be read with that in mind, and A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER is an unusual book in that Inspector Singh isn't so much "investigating the crime" as checking that another authority have got it right. He's not in his usual territory and must rely on some local support (and use some indifference from the local authorities as a spur to proceed). There's a few subplots working their way through the book - with the chief suspect fighting the Syariah courts for custody of her children, a battle for control of the family company, and a tribe of native people's being butchered, all of which are pulled together at the end of the book with some hefty reeling in of the various lines. It's not too hard to work out that these threads are all going to coincide, and therefore have some idea of where the resolution is coming from, but there are precious few clues for the reader to work with. Really there's less of a solving and more of a revealing going on, and because of that I doubt it's going to be a very satisfactory ending for fans of guessing the culprit before the author reveals all.
As the start of a new series of rumpled, "character" type detectives, I thought A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER was a good, light, fun read, introducing a new protagonist who really seems to have some potential. In future books I really hope that he hits his stride, embraces his inner grumpy old man and gets to grips with his surroundings. I'm also hoping that the next books have a little more leeway to introduce the world that Inspector Singh inhabits, as this first book did seem to have it's hands full introducing him.