Miss Moorthy Investigates by Ovidia Yu

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As you may recall, several months ago I read Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu. I wrote then: “[The novel] lacked pace and narrative tension… Aunty Lee’s Delights [is] the author’s first, if slightly flawed, [foray] into the genre.”

I was incorrect: Aunty Lee’s Delights isn’t Yu’s first mystery novel. I recently snagged a used copy of Miss Murthy Investigates, a mystery novel by Yu originally published in 1989 by Hotspot Books (Singapore), but repackaged and rereleased in 2012 by Westland (New Delhi).

Like Aunty Lee’s Delights, Miss Murthy Investigates is also a cozy mystery  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.

Miss Murthy Investigates is set in 1975 in “safe” and “straight-laced” Singapore. The novel stars Savitri “Savi” Moorthy, a thirty-something, sari-wearing secondary school English teacher—a “well-bred Singapore girl.” Her colleague, Evelyn Ngui, is murdered, presumably by “The Strangler,” a serial killer who targets single “career women.”

This whodunit was much more enjoyable than Aunty Lee’s Delights, which, admittedly, was a bit of a slog. Miss Murthy Investigates was an entertaining novel; Yu keeps the suspense percolating with several brightly-colored red herrings to obscure the real killer.

‘Twas also delightful to read a Singapore book with a South Asian protagonist, replete with Bollywood references (Miss Moorthy’s mother’s “Hema Malini impression.”) Miss Moorthy is not a particularly well-developed character: the reader learns more about her free-spirited flatmate, Constance Chay, and her on-again-off-again beau, Dr. Anthony Tan, than the reader does about Miss Murthy. Still—delightful, and likely the reason why the book was re-published in India, and not in Singapore.

I’ve bumped Yu’s Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials to the top of my reading queue after reading, and enjoying, Miss Murthy Investigates. Yu spins a good yarn; I guess Aunty Lee’s Delights was just a dud.