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by Shamini Flint
Piatkus, May 2013
310 pages
ISBN: 0749953470

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

"Cambodia. What did he know about Cambodia of all places?" So thinks Inspector Singh, the main character, when informed of his next assignment. I confess it also applies to this reader who was eager to learn more about that country. Inspector Singh is a police officer based in Singapore but, due to a strained relationship with his superior, he is often sent on missions to neighbouring Asian countries. This is a great way for the author to set the plots in various settings while providing the reader with an education about various Asian nations. This time, Singh is assigned to act as an observer on behalf of ASEA (Association of South East Asia Nations) at the War Crimes Tribunal in Phnom Penh.

Singh is a unique and lovable character. A turbaned Sikh, short and plump, who loves his food - especially curries - blessed with a keen mind, a good helping of intuition and honest in his life and police work. Cambodia is a country still reeling from the atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge regime, a country still steeped in blood, where deep wounds have not yet healed. In fact, the inspector arrives at a time when the local police, headed by Colonel Manhay, are on the hunt for a serial killer who targets ex-Khmer Rouge members. The infamous legacy of the Killing Fields is so present still that Singh cannot but reflect that after no more than a week, he had already got used to the idea of mass murder.

Shortly after the beginning of his stint at the Court proceedings, an important witness is found murdered. To assure that the tribunal is allowed to pursue its vital work, Singh is roped in, alongside Colonel Manhay, to investigate the crime. With the help of Chhean, his minder and interpreter, a woman with a personal quest and a direct approach to people and events, they launch the investigation that will eventually resolve both the individual murder and the multiple assassinations.

Shamini Flint's style is engaging and well-adapted to the various rhythms of the story. We discover Cambodia at the same time as Singh and learn about its dark history and the ever-present impact of the past on the various players, in a flowing manner without ever feeling we are being taught a lesson. Although the plot is often gruesome as expected in such a setting, the author manages to inject touches of humour and humanity which alleviate the mood and render the events and characters quite believable. We get to meet a people enmeshed in its bloody past, searching for loved ones, surrounded by death and corruption but intent on moving forward with dignity and love for their land.

The plot and characters are complex and interesting. There are quite a few twists and turns and the outcome is not obvious. The story unfolds smoothly and keeps the reader captive until the very end. This was my first meeting with Inspector Singh and it won't be my last. I am eager to travel with him to India, Malaysia, Bali and wherever else that the author sends him to. I will thus learn about parts of the world that are often hazy to me while enjoying myself with a good tale.

Nicole Leclerc is a native Montrealer, avid reader, long time reviewer and moderator of the 4MA online discussion group.

Reviewed by Nicole Leclerc, June 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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