Review - A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder, Shamini Flint

Book Title:   A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER
Author:   Shamini Flint
Publisher:   Piatkus
Copyright:   2009
ISBN:   978-0-7499-2975-6
No of Pages:   295

Book Synopsis:

Inspector Singh is in a bad mood. He's been sent from his home in Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to solve a murder that has him stumped. Chelsea Liew - the famous Singaporean model - is on death row for the murder of her ex-husband. She swears she didn't do it, he thinks she didn't do it, but no matter how hard he tries to get to the bottom of things, he still arrives back at the same place - that Chelsea's husband was shot at point blank range, and that Chelsea had the best motivation to pull the trigger: he was taking her kids away from her.

Now Inspector Singh must pull out all the stops to crack a crime that could potentially free a beautiful and innocent woman and reunite a mother with her children. There's just one problem - the Malaysian police refuse to play ball...

Book Review:

Think Hercule Poirot in a Sikh turban and the tropical heat of Kuala Lumpur, but add a hefty dose of rumpled Columbo and I think that's the best description of Inspector Singh of the Singapore police that I can come up with.  A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER is the first in this series from Singapore based author Shamini Flint.

This book is definitely on the lighter side of crime fiction, I'll have to read the next couple that I have here to be able to say if that's an ongoing characteristic, but I'm guessing it's probably exactly where the books are heading.  Whilst there is a shooting murder in this book, it happens off-page, there's very little in the way of rushing around on the part of the main protagonist and whilst there is always the threat of the death penalty hanging over the chief suspect, there's a sense that Inspector Singh will, of course, save the day.  Which he does with a hefty dose of gentle humour, quite questioning, observation and just enough prodding of various sore points.  Or at least he sort of does.  But more on plot later.  It seems a more than reasonable expectation that the personality of the main character is going to inform each of his future investigations, and whilst Singh takes his job seriously, he's very much set up to be a "character".

Of course a debut book in a series has to be read with that in mind, and A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER is an unusual book in that Inspector Singh isn't so much "investigating the crime" as checking that another authority have got it right.  He's not in his usual territory and must rely on some local support (and use some indifference from the local authorities as a spur to proceed).  There's a few sub-themes working their way through the book - with the chief suspect fighting the Syariah courts for custody of her children, a battle for control of the family company, and a tribe of native people's being butchered, all of which are pulled together at the end of the book with some hefty reeling in of the various lines.  It's not too hard to work out that these threads are all going to coincide, and therefore have some idea of where the resolution is coming from, but there are precious few clues for the reader to work with.  Really there's less of a solving and more of a revealing going on, and because of that I doubt it's going to be a very satisfactory ending for fans of guessing the culprit before the author reveals all.

As the start of a new series of rumpled, "character" type detectives, I thought A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER was a good, light, fun read, introducing a new protagonist who really seems to have some potential.  In future books I really hope he hits his stride, embraces his inner grumpy old man and gets to grips with his surroundings.  I'm also hoping that the next books have a little more leeway to introduce the world that Inspector Singh inhabits, as this first book did seem to have it's hands full introducing him.

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