Written by Shamini Flint — Meet Inspector Singh, a rotund, turban wearing Sikh policeman and the bane of his long-suffering bosses at the Singapore Police Department. To the newspapers, he’s the ‘curry cop’, the ‘poppadom policeman’, and a man who gets results in some rather unorthodox ways. However, to Superintendent Chen, Singh is an annoyance. So when Chen is offered the chance to get rid of his renegade detective for a short while, he jumps at the opportunity.
Jason Tan, the son of a bigwig at the Singapore Embassy in China has been bludgeoned to death in a Beijing alley. And although the local police have dismissed the death as a street robbery gone wrong, the boy’s mother, Susan Tan – who also happens to be the First Secretary – thinks otherwise. She’s insistent that Singh is the only man capable of finding her son’s murderer.
This is how the bumbling inspector finds himself flying business class on the red eye to China, where his size, shape, beard, turban and habit of wearing white tennis shoes certainly makes him stand out from the crowds. Aided by Li Jun, a former member of the Beijing police force, Singh soon comes to the conclusion that the victim’s mother may be onto something. Then, when a young woman who claims to have information about Jason’s death is also murdered, Singh and Li Jun have their work cut out to uncover the culprits in a country where corruption is rife, and dissenters are likely to be spirited away for ‘re-education’, never to be seen again.
In Inspector Singh, Shamini Flint has created a one-off character whose methods may be unorthodox, but certainly produce results. There isn’t a police profiler, DNA sample kit or taser in sight – Singh may be a modern policeman, but he believes in following his gut feeling. There’s a touch of the Mma Precious Ramotswe about him, and fans of The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency will certainly warm to this odd little man.
This is Singh’s sixth outing in print – the first I’ve read – and it is clear that he travels far and wide across Asia searching for miscreants. Previous books have been set in such far flung locations as Cambodia, Bali and India. The author is a former lawyer who travelled extensively in the Far East in her legal career and her familiarity with the area shines through. The sights, scents, and sounds of China’s capital will leap out of the pages and pull you in.
She also has a canny knack for characterisation. Singh deservedly takes the starring role, but supporting cast members such as Li Jun, Jason’s rebellious former mentor Professor Luo, the ambitious Special Forces policeman Fu Xinghua, and Jason’s younger sister Jemima are all carefully constructed. I struggled with some of the unfamiliar Chinese names and sometimes had to skip back to check who was who, but otherwise I found this book an unusual and enjoyable addition to the crime fiction fold.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars