Vicki Virtue – The Raffles Affair

Penguin Random House, Singapore, 2021

How could I resist this book with its instant evocation of memories of that gracious gem of colonial luxury, Raffles Hotel. I’ve not yet stayed there but have absorbed some of its beauty in the odd wander through in times past when we could travel freely. The author had the distinction of a writer’s residency there. I’m green with envy.

Vicki Virtue talks about The Raffles Affair

The Raffles Affair is a comfortable cosy crime novel which cleverly dances between the frivolous and the dark.

Ex-MI6 agent, now freelance, Victoria West bursts into the story already trailing a case-solving history with Raffles and the Singapore police force. She’s supposed to be at Raffles to attend the wedding celebrations of her long-time American friend and Silicon Valley millionaire Peyton Latchmore. But no such luck.

The wedding party from the outset is beset with bickering and atmospheres, some trivial and some a tad sinister, as straight away we meet a sizeable cast of characters – who then all become possible suspects in not one but two deaths. There are red herrings aplenty as we follow Victoria in her investigation into these crimes.

I am determinedly not giving away story elements so that the reader will not be alerted to the various surprises the author has cooked up for us. Suffice it to say that the weaving plot takes us into the murky world of hedge funds and Ponzi schemes, big banking and eye-watering amounts of money.

We’re also treated to detailed descriptions of food, fashion, make-up and hairdos – things often associated with women’s fiction. These things, however, end up with much greater significance than we might first think.

And then there is the refined and gracious building and institution that is Raffles, which takes on a character all its own. The author’s on-site knowledge of the architecture, layout and workings of the hotel allow her to be quite precise as she takes us on numerous meanderings around the building. Victoria West’s back-story allows her to access crucial information and she has a convenient ‘in’ with management and staff at the hotel. Nevertheless, it takes all her ingenuity to get a result.

There are other minor but pleasing elements to this book – the little digs, not too unkind, at the archetypal British traveller abroad is one of these. You know the thing – complaints about the heat and food and outright racist commentary derived from a sense of colonial superiority.

In her quest to draw on the classic detective stories of Agatha Christie and her ilk, Vicki Virtue has crafted an entertaining and cleverly twisting tale with just the motivations and insights into human behaviour that dominated these earlier twentieth century works.

There’s a morality in this type of story; it’s not a preaching voice but rather the view seen, at the same time from within and above, of an interested observer. There is judgement where it’s due, yes, but there is also compassion. Followers of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot will feel the echo.

Victoria West is an entirely contemporary heroine-sleuth. She’s got everything we expect – the financial means to pursue an adventurous life, the  intelligence to analyse information, the courage to venture into danger, the moral imperative to seek justice. I’ll look forward to following her future exploits.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for my review copy and to Vicki for such a great chat, she in Auckland and I in Canberra.

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