I’ve decided to read more books in 2017 from my ever-growing list of books to read. And write at least a short paragraph about each one. So here we go!
This is the first one I read. Based on the cover design, I thought this will turn out to be a quirky and fun mystery novel. Something along the lines of Nury Vittachi’s Feng Shui detective. But, I was wrong.
The crime isn’t that great a mystery. It’s a whodunit. An ang mo gets bashed up in his office on the top floor of Republic Towers, while awaiting his business partners to arrive for a meeting. The inspector assigned to this case is Shamini Flint’s protagonist – Inspector Singh, an overweight Sikh inspector, who’s hated by his seniors. But, he’s someone they can’t do without when it comes to murder investigations.
However, his investigation proceeds at a snail’s pace and there’s no clear direction or thrill. Inspector Singh’s methods are sloppy to say the least and there are moments when he directly asks the person he’s inquiring if he did the murder or not. That’s like Johnny’s mother asking him to open his mouth to show that he’s not eating sugar. Inspector Singh has absolutely no method and his progress is heavily based on coincidences. There’s nothing wrong in that. Shikari Shambu’s adventures used to be that way. But then, the tone has to be comical and the process of stumbling upon clues must be hilarious or interesting. In this book, it’s neither. There was hardly any moment that was laugh-out-loud or nail-biting.
The book also tries to touch upon some “serious” Singapore issues. But, that’s exactly what it does. It merely touches upon them and doesn’t delve into them deeply. There’s the public perception of maids, government’s partiality to the expatriate community, illegality of gay sex in Singapore, the death sentence and the blind quest for money. They’re all significant aspects of Singapore society that merit proper attention. But, they end up being superficial details due to the inconsistent tone of this book. One moment Inspector Singh is relishing a sumptuous biryani meal, the next moment he’s watching an autopsy, the next moment he’s wondering how people think maids are more likely to commit murder and the next moment he’s thinking how best to express his anger at his wife.
The book’s also filled with dull, boring details that aren’t funny. In a Goodreads review, it was rightly mentioned that it feels like model composition writing. “Describe Annie’s house for 6 marks”. Details are good but only if they’re relevant to the story in some sensible way. The author would do well to heed Hitchcock’s advice.
The Indian stereotypes irked me as well. The gossip-loving wife. Her pride in the dishes she cooks. Her dismissiveness of people of the other race, especially when it comes to marriage. These are partially true, yes. But, that’s what stereotypes are. They’re not complete truths. It’s the danger of the single story as expressed by Adichie in the talk below. The Indian stereotypes in this book pander to a western audience. Inspector Singh’s character is moulded to make a Westerner think he’s a Singaporean Indian, not someone who really is.
To sum up, the problem with this book is that it can’t decide if it wants to be funny or thrilling or serious. As a result, it ends up being none of these. My search for a good mystery novel set against the Singapore backdrop continues…