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