13 September 2009

Review: INSPECTOR SINGH INVESTIGATES: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder, Shamini Flint

Piatkus Books, 2009, ISBN 978-0-7499-2975-6, 295 pages.

Chelsea Liew, mother of three, Singaporean ex-model, is in custody in Kuala Lumpur, remanded on the charge of murdering her ex-husband Alan Lee, business magnate, head of Lee Timber, a firm rumoured to be plundering and laying waste to Borneo's reamining natural rainforest. Alan Lee and his wife had been in a very public custody battle for their 3 boys, complicated by the fact that he had recently converted to Islam, thus shifting the jurisdiction of which court would decide on the custody. Alan Lee was shot just a week before on a deserted street two hundred yards from his front gate and his ex-wife was arrested within hours and charged with his murder.

Enter Inspector Singh, sent from Singapore, to ensure that Chelsea who has retained her Singaporean citizenship despite twenty years of marriage and residency in KL, gets a fair trial. A problem arises when Singh becomes convinced that Chelsea Liew is not guilty. It becomes even more complicated when Jasper Lee, Alan Lee's elder brother, and self declared nature activist, walks into the Bukit Aman police station and declares that he in fact murdered Alan.

Inspector Singh has not been sent to KL because he is a brilliant detective ensured of success. In fact quite the opposite. he has been handed a "poisoned chalice". The case is surrounded by politics and he is one of the last mavericks in the Singapore police force, "the elephant in the room that noone talked about but everyone hoped would do the decent thing and take early retirement". And rather conveniently he has a sister in KL so he can stay with her if needed.

INSPECTOR SINGH INVESTIGATES: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder is Shamini Flint's debut crime novel, the first of a promised series of 3, and I find myself quite willing to read the second. This is despite the fact that there were times when I almost lost interest in this one.
It is hard to put my finger on what went wrong for me, but I suspect that at times there was just too much detail provided and some of it was repetitious. I understand though the author's desire to make sure the reader understands the cultural context of the novel's setting. She also picks up on internationally sensitive topics such as the pollution caused annually by the burning of Indonesian rainforests. The custody battle reminded me a little of the case of Shahira Gillespie, particularly of some of the issues that surfaced there.

I liked the character of Inspector Singh and I think Flint has created a protagonist with possibilities. Despite the fact that INSPECTOR SINGH INVESTIGATES: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder is a relatively short novel, I think it possibly needed a bit more editing, to get more "show" and less "tell" into it.

My rating: 4.2

Shamini Flint is an established writer of children's books, living in Singapore, and has a background in international law. Her website makes interesting reading.

The second in the series INSPECTOR SINGH INVESTIGATES: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul has recently been published.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, as always, for the careful and thoughtful review, Kerrie. It's such a balance, isn't it, between giving enough detail in a novel, and giving too much. I can see why it's important to give cultural backtround in a novel; sometimes writers don't do enough of that. But, as you say, if it takes away from the main point - the murder and related events - then it can be distracting and make for much slower going. Still, I'm tempted to try A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder. I know little about that culture, and maybe I could learn something ; ).

Maxine Clarke said...

I rather liked this novel - I didn't find it too detailed, I have to say. I didn't think it was as good a novel as one written by one of the masters/mistresses, but I think that as a light novel with a serious message, it worked pretty well.


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