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As I've mentioned before on previous book reviews, I tend to flit between reading heavily factual books about history or music and lighter biographies or who dunnits. This book, written by Shamini Flint, fits into the second category. What attracted me was its exotic location. I've read Alexander McCall Smith's 'The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency' series as well as watched the TV adaptation and I found the kind of murders quite fascinating. It just makes a nice change from a moorland murder or inner city assassination.
Inspector Singh is a Singaporean of Indian ethnicity, he is essentially the typical bad-tempered, podgy detective. A sort of Asian Jack Frost if you like. Though he's described as sweaty, anyone who has been to South East Asia will know, that it's pretty difficult not to be! He's a wise old dog who tends to follow his gut feeling and he shows compassion to some of the suspects, in fact he's rather sweet on the Singaporean model that he's been sent to Kuala Lumpur to protect.
I expected a bit much from this book and found the opening pages to be very cliched, I wasn't sure if Inspector Singh had a strong enough character to lead the series. As the plot thickened, I found it a bit of a page turner but mostly because I was curious to find out who had committed the murder. There are slowly more elements included in it, such as love stories and conservation projects that are at loggerheads (boom boom) with the timber industry.
The writing remains quite cringeworthy but the plot was interesting enough to ensure that I finished the end of the book. Would I buy another book in the series? If it was second-hand and under a pound, like this one then yeah I'd probably go for it but I am not convinced enough to splash out a fiver or more on it as it is priced on Amazon.
Inspector Singh Investigates - a most Peculiar Malaysian Murder by Shamini Flint
I know you shouldn't be attracted to a book by the cover but I'm afraid I am drawn to a book by the cover initially then I read the blurb on the back before buying or rejecting it. I was attracted to this by the title because my family lived in Malaysia when I was a teenager and my step daughter and husband also spent two years in Kuala Lumpur about five years ago. I always enjoy reading books set in places where I have been so I bought it.
THE BLURB on the back
"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. Now Inspector Singh must pull out all the stops to crack a crime that could potentially free a beautiful and innocent woman and reunite a mother with her children. There's just one problem - the Malaysian police refuse to play ball?"
About the Author:
Shamini Flint lives in Singapore, she worked in Malaysia as a lawyer and then also in Singapore in an international law firm and during this time she travelled in Asia with her job. She has now left the law to stay at home with her children, write books and is also a part-time lecturer and environmental activist .Both of these interests become part of the story as aspects of Sharia law and a subplot concerning illegal logging are integral to this story. She also writes children's books with environmental and cultural themes.
My edition of this book is published by Piatkus books. They boast that all paper used in their books are natural, renewable and recycled products from sustainable FORESTS and certified in accordance with the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council.
About the book:
This is the first book in the Inspector Singh Investigates series and there are a further two books in this series that I have recently also purchased and they are, 'Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy' and 'Inspector Singh Investigates: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul'. I am looking forward to reading these two in the next few weeks.
Other more famous reviewer's on the novel:
'It's impossible not to warm to the portly, sweating, dishevelled, wheezing Inspector Singh from the start of this delightful novel' -- Guardian
'Flint has a clear authorial voice and stands out from the crowd in the originality of this novel.' -- Luke Croll, Reviewing the Evidence
We first meet Inspector Singh when he is sitting uncomfortably wedged in a plastic seat at Changi Airport. He had just that morning read in the newspaper of the murder of Alan Lee and felt sorry for the policeman who would be charged with the task of finding the murderer and then discovers that this unfortunate person is to be him. Our hero reminds me of inspector Frost played by David Jason as he is rather over weight, scruffy and does not follow traditional methods of policing.
His superiors have been looking for a way of getting rid of him but despite his unorthodox methods he does get results so thus far they have been unsuccessful. Sending him on this mission to KL is a way of getting rid of him at least temporarily and they are rather hoping that he will fail.
Inspector Singh's character is well portrayed as despite his many unattractive traits he is sweaty, overweight, and a heavy smoker with nicotine stained fingers, the reader does warm to him as he is kind and not prepared to just accept what he is told ad tow the party line. He digs and questions and finds out things that others have missed.
The scene is set in Kuala Lumpur and anyone who has visited this city will recognize many of the places mentioned from the famous Petronas Towers to Bangsar Market. You can almost hear the traffic hooting, the bustle and smell the monsoon drains and taste the wonderful food as you read the descriptions of the settings in the story. I was also so interested to see that the author alludes to the somewhat delicate relationship between Singapore and Malaysia and also refers at times to the mix of different religious beliefs that co-exist in Malaysia, she also mentions the fact that KL is definitely grubbier than Singapore where dropping litter is a major offense so much so that chewing gum is banned altogether in the country.
I thought there were times that Shamini Flint's style of writing could be compared to Alexander McColl Smith in his 'No One Ladies' Detective' series but there are major differences. They both have the main characters as larger than average build people who enjoy their food. They are both very caring and keen observers of other people and this is the reason why they are both such successful detectives in their quite different ways.
This story is much more of a detective story in that a real murder did take place and there are some quite graphic descriptions of violent behavior within the story which you never see in Mc Coll Smith's novels. In fact Ma Ramotswe really doesn't ever actually have to solve anything that we would consider might require a detective in the true sense where Shamini Flint's hero Inspector Singh is a real detective solving a genuine crime even if his methods are a little unorthodox.
So although they are both stories that really to a large extent on their characterization and setting to make them interesting they are quite different in the fact that Shamini Flint's novel is based very much on a legal foundation and both her knowledge of the law and particularly Sharia law as well as her interest in environmental concerns make the issues of this novel much more serious and I found it most interesting to read about the logging and deforestation in Sumatra and the way this was affecting the indigenous tribes in that area.
I enjoyed this novel as I found the style of writing very easy to read and having had close connections with Malaysia and Singapore I found her descriptions were a lovely reminder of my time in these countries. The story was quite captivating and had enough twists and turns and there were a few minor subplots that also engaged my interest. The characters were well portrayed and were certainly not one dimensional, they all had traits which were unlikable and yet still seemed human and vulnerable at times. Despite the negative aspects of his character I did find the hero interesting, a little unconventional but I liked the way approached the case and responded towards the other characters.
This was not a deeply intellectual or challenging read but if you enjoy gentle detective stories or have visited either Singapore or Malaysia then provided you are not looking for a deep read I would suggest you give this book a try. I enjoyed it and have bought the next two 'Inspector Singh' books which I am looking forward to reading in the next few weeks.
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