I don’t remember the last time I read two books by the same author in immediate succession. It’s been at least 11 years (that’s when I started keeping a detailed record of my reading) but I have a sense it’s actually much longer. While I love nothing more than to binge on TV shows I generally like to space my reading of even much loved authors out. Except this month.
It was back in June this year that I realised Shamini Flint had moved from being “an author whose work I like” to “an author whose books I love to the point of rambling about them to everyone including people who have no interest but are too polite to say so“. At the same time I realised I’d missed reading several of her series’ earlier instalments so immediately ordered all three of those from my favourite local bookseller.
Last week I decided that one of these would be perfect for my end of year mood. When I finished I felt unready to leave Inspector Singh and his world view so I dove straight into the second unread book. At the end of this I might easily have gone into the final unread book but alas SINGAPORE SCHOOL OF VILLAINY has been on back order and is not yet in my hot little hands (though it should be here shortly she says gushingly).
In A CURIOUS INDIAN CADAVER Flint’s protagonist, Inspector Singh of the Singapore Police, goes to India with his wife for a family wedding. He is not thrilled to be so engaged but he’s on enforced medical leave and doesn’t have much choice. He is soon embroiled in a murder investigation when a corpse is identified as the bride-to-be. The official version of events is that she committed suicide, probably to avoid her arranged marriage, but the young woman’s grandfather, an influential businessman, doesn’t believe that and asks Singh to look into the matter.
In A CALAMITOUS CHINESE KILLING, which follows immediately after the Indian-set book in the series chronology, the Inspector is sent to China to investigate the death of the son of the Singaporean Ambassador. Local police have closed the case as a robbery gone awry and Singh is, at first, inclined to agree with this assessment but, aided by a sidekick/translator in the form of a retired policeman who fell afoul of his superiors, is soon following leads down dangerous paths.
Suffice it to say I loved both of the books, which delivered all the things I’ve come to expect and admire from the series.
They’re not doorstops, generally being around 300 pages in length.
There’s an engaging protagonist who does have personal weaknesses but these are not as debilitating as the ones many of his fictional colleagues experience. There is a limit to how much I want to read about addiction.
The stories are suspenseful and while their investigations might, of necessity, unfold a little more quickly than real-life ones do they are always within the boundaries of my credibility.
Because each book is set in a different country readers are offered insights into a range of local historical, social and political issues. For example in A CURIOUS INDIAN CADAVER we learn about how a particular historical event affecting the Sikh people has long tentacles that affects people in the modern era.
And, perhaps most important of all, while it’s not hard to discern which way the author leans politically (especially if you follow her on twitter), the books don’t cross the line from storytelling to lecturing. There is a balance in the depictions of local people and customs even when these are alarming, such as in A CALAMITOUS CHINESE KILLING in which recalcitrant citizens are dealt with appallingly by prison authorities. I am truly grateful to Flint for showing restraint in this arena. The books don’t shy away from depicting such horrors as exist but there is not mountains of exposition. Readers are treated with the intelligence to know why these things are wrong. I have been reading another, much acclaimed book for the past several weeks but keep putting it aside because it is so didactic and obvious in its messaging, constantly reminding readers why racist behaviour is racist and awful. I hate being lectured at by my leisure reading. It treats readers who are already of the prevailing opinion as though they are morons and doesn’t work on the rest. People who disagree are never going to be convinced by being metaphorically shouted at.
Now that I’m nearly finished reading all the ones that currently exist I truly hope that Shamini Flint has some more Inspector Singh adventures to share with us all. And if you haven’t tried any of the books I highly recommend them.