Series: Inspector Singh Investigates #1
Genres: Detective Mystery
Published by Piatkus on July 2009
A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder features an unlikely hero, Inspector Singh. He has been seconded from Singapore to Malaysia to help solve the murder of Alan Lee, the ex-husband of famous Singaporean model, Chelsea Liew. Alan was shot at point blank range and Chelsea has the best motive as he was trying to take her children away from her. Although Singh thinks she is innocent, he blocked by the Malaysian police who are equally convinced of her guilt.
The book rests solidly on the shoulders of the unprepossessing man whose wide girth makes it difficult to avoid inadvertent physical contact with strangers. He smokes and eats heavily and sweats copiously. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he is underestimated by many. It is only through carefully listening to anyone involved in the case that he begins to work out what really happened. Singh is at heart an intelligent maverick and is almost universally loathed by his superiors for it. They sent him to Malaysia hoping that he would either succeed so they could take the credit or that he would fail and they could finally get rid of him. The Malaysian police are similarly suspicious of him and even assign him an assistant who Singh suspects of spying on him.
The setting is particularly evocative and could almost stand alone as another character, such is the loving treatment Flint gives it. Political and cultural tensions between Singapore and Malaysia are exposed that threaten to spill over when a Singaporean woman is accused of killing a Malaysian man. Serious issues such as domestic violence and people converting to Islam are addressed. Chelsea and Alan were in the process of divorcing and it looked as if Chelsea was going to gain custody of the children. This wouldn’t be a problem in many countries but because religion, culture and law are so intertwined in Malaysia, Alan is able to convert to Islam so that the case would be moved to a Sharia Court. As a Muslim and the father, he would automatically be granted custody. Chelsea would have to convert if she wanted to have a chance of still seeing her kids. Flint does not castigate Muslims for allowing this loophole but she does criticise those who convert without sincere intentions. The other significant issue is the timber trade which involves the destruction of rainforests in Borneo and the effects this has on the Penan tribe. Such weighty issues are not often found in a police procedural but they made this one much richer for it.
The pace is slow, rather like Singh, and you can’t expect instant gratification. Characters are interviewed and re-interviewed, revealing more of their personality, motive, hopes, dreams and fears. I’ve seen the book negatively compared to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series and Agatha Christie novels on Goodreads and just want to point out that this is a police procedural rather than a cozy mystery so the methods the detective use will differ. Singh is not blessed with the same kind of genius as Hercule Poirot but he is a fantastic judge of character and good at making sense of the little things.
It is worth the time it takes to get to know Singh and Kuala Lumpur and if you’re like me, the serious issues covered will stay with you long after you have finished the final page.