Piatkus, Great Britain, 2013
Book 6 in the Inspector Singh Investigates series
This brings me to the end of the Inspector Singh series, as I started at the most recent (A Frightfully English Execution) before acquiring the rest of the books and then reading in order.
The story begins with reference to the ethnic divide in Singapore (Chinese, Malay, Indian). As is her wont, Mrs Singh has a view and is not backward at expressing it, condemning cheap Chinese goods and China Girls (‘Up to no good until proven otherwise!’) with equal vehemence. We pass quickly into the ‘dark matter’ of the imprisonment of Chinese intellectuals, the suppression of dissenting views, the disappearance of the discontented and rebellious.
It is into this that Superintendent Chen sends the intrepid Singh to investigate a murder in Beijing, despite his lack of Chinese language. Justin Tan, the twenty-three-year-old son of the First Secretary at the Singaporean Embassy in China (a critical posting) has been found beaten to death (‘a bludgeoning in Beijing’), purportedly by a gang of ruffians.
Of course, it is immediately apparent that there is much more to the story than the official version and it is up to Singh to navigate his way through the murk of diplomacy, business, police and other high level corruption, secrets and lies to uncover the crucial connections and eventually the truth.
Retired policeman Li Jun proves to be an invaluable partner in this investigation, not merely for his Chinese language, inside knowledge and local connections but also for his willingness to find good eating places and to take a bullet if necessary for Singh.
The reliable and adaptable embassy driver Benson is another stalwart and both men treat us to delightfully amusing conversations in which Singh’s wit and astute observations of Chinese society can be given voice. This is a soothing balm to the undercurrent of violence and oppression which is at the heart of this story.
The First Secretary’s daughter Jemima also proves her worth as is often the case with apparently minor female characters in the Singh series. Singh recognises their value. Singh’s gruff sympathy for the underdog is an endearing quality – he understands the hostility of the Aunty and the financial deprivation which leads Qing to make unfortunate decisions. This device helps us to understand the way the diverse societies in this series work, as they come under the revelatory gaze of the author.
My unconditional passion for Inspector Singh would no doubt be greeted with gruff dismissal. I would never expect more than phlegmatic grunts, but I know him well enough now to know that beneath this crusty exterior lies a justice warrior and a kind man determined to uncover the wrongs we do one another, a problem solver with terrier-like persistence. After all, that’s what I want in a fictional police detective – and probably in the real world too.
You can find my interview with Shamini Flint about Inspector Singh investigates – a Frightfully English Execution at https://livingartscanberra.com.au/podcasts/terror-australis-festival and at: https://livingartscanberra.com.au/shamini-flint-inspector-singh-investigates-a-frightfully-english-execution/ where you will also find a short and partial blog about the book.