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by Shamini Flint
Minotaur Books, July 2010
304 pages
ISBN: 0312596979

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Readers who appreciate the Laotian setting of Colin Cotterill's books featuring Dr Siri Paiboun will enjoy this new series featuring an overweight, dishevelled senior detective from Singapore, Inspector Singh. He is another off-beat character, a little more comedic than Paiboun but equally socially aware. The crime he is investigating has taken place in Kuala Lumpur but as the accused is a Singaporean, Singh is sent there to make sure her interests are protected.

Shamina Flint's plot line begins rather simply but as she adds the layers of complexity the story becomes more interesting. Chelsea Liew has been accused of the murder of her abusive husband Alan Lee, the principal owner of a major timber business. Prior to his stabbing, he and Chelsea were locked in a divorce and custody battle. Despite the lack of clear evidence, Chelsea was presumed the obvious killer. Singh almost immediately concludes that she is innocent.

An important sub-plot emerges when Alan's younger brother Jasper, confesses to the crime claiming he killed his brother because of Lee Timber's exploitive practices. The company has been cutting lumber in protected areas of Borneo and elsewhere and driving aboriginals such as the Penan people from their ancestral territories. Jasper is a committed activist deeply involved with a British man, Rupert Winfield, in the fight to save the Penan. Singh does not believe Jasper's confession but wonders what motivates him to risk his own life by making it.

Sergeant Shukor of the Malaysian police has been officially assigned to be Singh's helper, unofficially the watchdog to protect Malaysian jurisdiction . Deeply suspicious of Singh at first, his admiration and respect grows as he observes how discerning he is in dealing with a growing list of suspects and motives in what started as a seemingly open and shut case.

Freed from murder charges, Chelsea's troubles are not over as her husband converted to Islam just before his death. He thus complicated the custody battle which now cannot be settled because according to Syariah law her sons must be raised in a Muslim household. Was this just a ploy to get the children away from her or was there another reason for Alan to turn to Islam? Nobody believes it was for religious reasons.

Inspector Singh comes to Chelsea's rescue as well as discovering who killed Alan but not before the third Lee brother, Kian Min, the manager of Lee Timber is also killed. The question is are the deaths related? Other complications in the plot made this an enjoyable read and this debut effort points to an interesting series especially as Flint proposes to set each book in a different Asian city.

Ann Pearson is a photographer and retired college Humanities teacher who lives in Montreal

Reviewed by Ann Pearson, December 2010

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