jpegAround the world with crime fiction: my ‘tour’ aimed at reading crime novels from authors from as many different countries as possible – it’s now 21 countries… about 180 still to explore for crimes and criminals – has brought me to Malaysia, the birthplace of writer Shamini Flint.

She enjoyed a successful legal career and she writes in English but the Malaysia she narrates is absolutely authentic… or at least it feels so to someone like me who’s never visited Kuala Lumpur.

Inspector Singh is of Sikh origin, one of the many ethnicities simmering in the Singapore melting pot where he lives, and in Flint’s novels he travels all over the Far East. In the opening pages of this novel, the first of the series, we discover why he travels so much. Singh, chubby and middle aged, is a sly old fox who’s as allergic to authority as he’s clever and persevering in his investigations. His superiors are more than happy to land  him with thorny cases that will lead him to play havoc as far away as possible from orderly, conformist and rather tyrannical (are we allowed to say so?) Singapore.

Singh is thus thrown in at the deep end in Kuala Lumpur’s tropical heat, working alongside the local police in the investigation for the murder of Alan Lee, a millionaire wood-logging entrepreneur. There actually seems to be little to investigate: the authorities have arrested and put on trial Lee’s wife, the beautiful former fashion model Chelsea Liew, a Singapore citizen. Chelsea and her husband were going through a bloody divorce and Lee, thanks also to a highly improbable conversion to Islam, was on the brink of snatching custody of their three children from Chelsea. Who had vowed to kill him for this.

A foregone conclusion? Maybe for the Singapore authorities, who decided to despatch Singh to Kuala Lumpur to ensure that their fellow citizen would have at least the benefit of a fair trial. A trial with the death penalty looming at the end. Singh thinks otherwise though. He immediately finds food for his professional curiosity, and clues to sink his teeth in. Our deceivingly placid inspector manages to alienate part of the local homicide squad but also to unearth new, unexpected facts. And when Alan Lee’s brother confesses to the crime, he keeps his eyes open and his wits about him, and is able to see beyond appearances.

I like Flint’s smooth style and the rhythm of her writing, as well as her ability in making real an environment so far removed from ours, globalisation notwithstanding. More than geographical distance, it’s the distance in customs and social habits.  Husband and wife fight, and sometimes, alas, kill each other, the world over, but the factors that come into play, like religion here, can be very different. Even if the plot is occasionally obvious, and some of the characters a little ‘lightweight’, I have on the whole appreciated the novel, and Inspector Singh in particular. Crime fiction teems with detectives who are quirky and don’t play by the book, and Singh is a worthy specimen of the species. Also, I love travelling, and with him you can go a long way in the Far East and thereabouts.