Inspector Singh Investigates: Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder, by Shamini Flint, Piatkus 2009, 295pp.
While thinking about how to judge this Malaysian murder mystery, I decided to enumerate the dimensions of the genre.
Location. I put this first because I really like my trash reading to take me someplace interesting. I have never been to Malaysia, though I have been to Singapore a couple of times. This novel informs me that the city is crowded, has bad traffic, and some interesting architecture. That's about it for atmosphere. The "Location" category includes interesting bits of history and nifty factoids generally. None of those here. There is a Borneo angle, but not developed enough.
Protagonist. How is the Sherlock? In this case the detective is a fat Sikh, which should be more interesting than it is. I learned that Sikhs like food and gossip. In this category I'll include Love Interest, which is always nice. But there's none here, even though the accused is a beautiful model.
Puzzle. I do not really care about the actual mystery, usually. Still, the author gets points for surprise and cleverness. About halfway through this one I paused to consider the MUP (most unlikely person), and picked correctly, but with one surprise. Huge points off if incidents stretch credulity too far. In this novel the police bureaucracy is set up to be a big obstacle, but in fact they are relatively helpful.
Suspense. Not necessary, but a modicum gets the pages turning. None in the current novel.
Humor. Humor rarely works in a mystery story, with exceptions like Edmund Crispin. But flashes are welcome. None here.
Novelistic qualities. Not fair to expect vivid writing and deep characters, so I put this last. But it sometimes happens. The unhappy rich family in this novel is formulaic, though. The Sikh detective might develop more in subsequent novels.
My favorite mysteries, that I still reread, are VanGulik's Judge Dee stories. These score big in Location and Protagonist (such a confident, righteous dude, Mr Dee). As a kid I liked Lord Peter Wimsey, mostly for the Protagonist and the love story, but also for minutiae like bell ringing. I'd read more about Zen before any more Singh, but Amazon thinks I must want the rest of the series, and keeps emailing me about it. I read a lot of Hillerman at one point.
Joe wrote: If you haven't already read them I suggest, Donna Leon, who is American, but lives in Venice and sets her detective novels there, Michael Dibdin who sets his in various Italian cities that he lived in while teaching, and translations of Andrea Camilleri, who sets his in Sicily, where he is from.
I especially like Camilleri because his detective has such an irascible and temperamental character. Camilleri is over 90 now and I suspect the character of Inspector Montalbano is based on that of the author.
Paul wrote: so you didn't like it, then? Chuckle.
I am finding myself, surprisngly, enjoying Crossing to Safety an awful lot.
Ravi wrote: U must watch the tv series of Wimsey with harriet walter.
Tom advocated The Art of Seduction yet again.