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Malaysia, here we come!  Inspector Singh Investigates:  A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder is the debut novel featuring Singaporean police detective Inspector Singh.

So here’s my confession–I needed to look up Google Maps to find Singapore and Malaysia. And when I did, I was even more confused, so I needed to read the attached text to figure out the story of the Malay Peninsula.   The Dutch established trading posts there in the 17th century, the British later colonized it, the Japanese invaded it during World War II.   In 1948, the British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula formed the Federation of Malaya, and in 1957, after a decade of intense negotiations, it gained independence from Britain and renamed itself Malaysia.   In 1963 Singapore and two other states joined the Peninsular Malaysia Federation, but Singapore left in 1965 (or was expelled, depending on which source you believe) to become a separate nation, a city-state.

Be honest, did you know all that?  If so, you must have been paying more attention in Geography class than I was.  Well, maybe all that background isn’t strictly necessary to enjoy Inspector Singh Investigates, but it does help one understand some important aspects of the story.

The maverick inspector has been sent from Singapore to protect the rights of Chelsea Liew, a Singapore citizen who marred a Malaysian man twenty years ago and now is about to be tried for his murder.  The picture-perfect marriage of the beautiful model and the wealthy tycoon spiraled into an abusive relationship with adultery on the side. The birth of three sons did nothing to help Chelsea’s marriage to Alan Lee, and she now stands before the court accused of his death.

Before the murder came the divorce with its custody issues.  Popular opinion favored Chelsea, as Alan’s extra-marital affairs were well known.  It looked as if Chelsea had a good chance to gain custody of their children, even though she was not Muslim; although Malaysia is a strongly male-dominated culture and officially a Muslim state, there is freedom of religion.  However, when things begin to go badly for Alan Lee during the trial, his lawyer requests and is given a two-week recess.  When the trial resumes it is announced that Lee has converted to Islam and has unilaterally converted his three sons as well.  According to Islamic law, this conversion automatically gives him custody of the boys to raise them as Muslims.  Was the threat of losing custody of their sons enough of a motive for murder?

This is a very strong first novel.  The characters are well-defined, easy to remember.  And the insights into the Malaysian culture and the city of Kuala Lumpur are well done.  It’s a “foreign” country, even to neighboring Singaporeans.  Singapore is a tightly run country, famous for outlawing chewing gum in public and for caning people as punishment.  Malaysia, on the other hand, is looser, overcrowded, and ecologically unaware, or so it seems from the picture of its capital city.  The description of Kuala Lumpur is a fascinating one.   And Inspector Singh is a wonderful addition to the world of police detectives.

You can read more about Shamini Flint on her web site.