What does one do while on holiday in rural India, 120 miles from the Kerala-Karnataka border, at the tail-end of the monsoon? Why, catch up on one’s end-of-summer* popcorn novels, of course!
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This past week, I read Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder by Shamini Flint and Aunty Lee’s Delights: A Singaporean Mystery by Ovidia Yu, two mystery novels. I read widely in the genre (and have since I was a wee reader) and was excited to crack open these page-turners.
A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder and Aunty Lee’s Delights both star idiosyncratic (and, here, somewhat “inspired” by cultural stereotype) detectives—a bumbling, misshapen Sikh police inspector and a gregarious, kaypoh Peranakan restauranteur. Each find themselves faced with a dead body and one question: “Whodunit?” Aunty Lee’s Delights is a cozy mystery, my favorite sub-genre, and features an intuitive amateur detective, often dismissed by the authorities in general as nosy busybodies, as novels in this sub-genre almost always do.
However, quick beach reads these books were not. Both lacked pace and narrative tension, conventions of the genre, Yu’s novel especially. An entire quarter of Aunty Lee’s Delights is devoted to a single dinner party in which all the book’s characters—and presumably, suspects—are introduced. Christie was a master of the “locked-room” sub-genre; Yu pays homage, it would seem, but does not execute as deftly.
Also, both novels were overwhelmed by ponderous expository information. However, I attribute this quirk to the books’ Western publishers, and not the authors. According to “Singapore Writer Ovidia Yu Inks a New Life,” a profile by Akshita Nanda in The Straits Times, “The William Morrow deal puts [Yu] in the rarefied ranks of Singaporean writers established overseas,” and includes Shamini Flint, who is published by Little, Brown. Overall, this heavy-handed editing marred my reading experience.
A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder and Aunty Lee’s Delights are the authors’ first, if slightly flawed, forays into the genre. Flint’s other works include books for young readers, of which my toddler is a fan. Flint’s Inspector Singh returns in A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul, The Singapore School of Villainy, A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree, A Curious Indian Cadaver, and A Calamitous Chinese Killing. Yu is best known for her theatre works. Her Aunty Lee, too, returns in Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials (releasing on September 30, 2014).
I have A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul and Deadly Specials queued up and pre-ordered, respectively, on my Kindle. Despite not being wholly satisfied by either novel, I’m always willing to give writers a second read.
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* Yes, I still think in seasons. Old habits die hard etcetera.