Saturday, April 02, 2022

A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder (Inspector Singh Investigates, #1) by Shamini Flint

A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder (Inspector Singh Investigates #1)A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder by Shamini Flint
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Engaging characters and a vibrant locale set the stage for this exciting mystery to play out.

When a famous Singaporean model is arrested for the murder of her husband, a lumber magnate, in Kuala Lumpur, his superiors in the Singapore Police send Inspector Singh to Malaysia to ensure Chelsea Liew receives a fair shake. With a pretty much cut-and-dried case against Liew, this assignment is viewed as a no-win situation for Singh and seen as a possible way to rid the department of him. And although Singh has a successful investigative history, he is considered a pariah within his department for an as-yet unrevealed reason.

He is not greeted warmly at his arrival on the Malaysian Police Commissioner’s doorstep, but his “cooperation” in the case is grudgingly accepted, and he’s assigned a local officer as an assistant. Sergeant Shukor, the Commissioner’s aide-de-camp, is supposed to keep an eye on Singh, subtly thwart his participation, and hurry him on his way back to Singapore. However, Shukor is a genuinely earnest cop and feels Singh is on to something. He quickly switches to Singh’s camp, and together, they pursue the elements that make up the evidence against Chelsea.

The accused and the deceased, Alan Lee, were going through a bitter divorce and custody battle at the time of his murder. During their last court appearance, Lee’s attorney had dropped a bombshell on everyone, announcing that his client had recently converted to Islam. According to the Malaysian constitution, this development put the question of the custody of their children in the hands of the religious Syariah court, where they would most certainly award custody to their now-Moslem father. Lee, an abusive wife-beater, known repeat adulterer, and disinterested parent at best, is suspected of making a sham conversion to spite his wife and separate her from her beloved children, giving her a strong motive for his murder.

With things looking grim for Chelsea, a conviction means a mandatory death sentence for her; she has mentally given up as she languishes in the local prison awaiting her trial. Singh is eventually able to shake her out of her stupor, though, with his offer of help.

A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder is the first book in Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh Investigates series. It is a superb beginning with a curious lead detective, a colorful and exotic Malaysian setting, and an intriguing, surprise-filled plot. Interestingly, we don’t learn much about the main character; he’s even addressed as Singh or Inspector Singh throughout, never a first name. We know he is married, a Sikh, has a widowed sister living in Kuala Lumpur whom he ends up staying with during the extended investigation, and that his Singaporean colleagues would love to have him gone. Physically, he’s short, rotund, sweats profusely, smokes, and snores like a freight train, according to his sister. He’s just not a very engaging sounding lead character, but somehow, he is just that, and very much so. He coaxes witnesses to tell all and wins over his Malaysian counterparts quite handily. The missing pieces to the puzzle of his backstory, though, will act like catnip on me; I will need to read further in the series for sure. In addition, I enjoyed both Shukor and Inspector Mohammed, the Malaysian connections, one for his genuineness and the other for his elegance and grace. I hope they reappear in series down the road.

The Malaysian setting was exotic; I haven’t run across any other mysteries using this location as a backdrop. The descriptions immersed me in the place. I felt I had a reasonably good image of what the inspector and other characters were experiencing. And although the story doesn’t linger in Borneo, I thought I got a clear impression of that place and a good idea of the events of the time with the logging industry, palm oil, and the Penan people (which continues today.)

Along with its engaging characters, multiple points of view, and vibrant locale, the plot provides many viable suspects and red herrings to dismiss before getting to its final resolution. I never saw the answer until a tiny action clued me in, thinking, “No, really?” Not that the suspect was implausible but that I’d been had – completely. Having admitted that, I will say the resolution also satisfied me – completely.

I recommend A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER to readers of mystery fiction who would enjoy a different sort of police detective, competent for sure but with flaws and perhaps storied background. Also, this book might fit the bill for mystery readers who, although they aren’t into the cozy subgenre, don’t care for a lot of blood and guts in the details of their crime stories.

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