Inspector Singh Investigates: The Singapore School of Villainy by Shamini Flint

This is the third instalment of the Inspector Singh series and it breaks my heart to say this but I was a little disappointed with it. I really wanted to like this series because the main character is Sikh and everything is set in Asia but I find Flint’s writing style to be a little on the corny side. There’s also too many subplots crowding up my attention.

The writing was pretty clichéd at times. The conversations the characters had with each other didn’t sound realistic at times and the attempts at cliffhangers left me inwardly cringing a little. It also tried a little too hard at trying to expose the seedy underbelly of Singaporean business life. Flint is much better at writing straight-forwardly (like Kerry Greenwood), that I feel she shouldn’t try to focus on being gritty because it’s not really her style and it shows.

There’s also too many things going on and it’s immensely distracting. There’s a backstory for every single suspect and each suspect’s hidden agenda has not been handled in a way that it doesn’t steal the attention away from the main story. I think Flint and I would have gotten on in real life since it looks like we have the same problem, not knowing when to just focus on one thing at a time and instead bombarding people with too many confusing ideas. Subsequently, many subplots and character developments feel underdeveloped or unfinished because the story is just too busy.

Despite all the noise, I was still able to spot the Chekhov’s Gun a mile away but I think this says less about the surprise element of the crime novel and more about the fact that I need to read something else that doesn’t involve someone dying horribly.

What I did unabashedly love, and this is what drew me into the Inspector Singh Series in the first place, are the fascinating characters that Flint creates. Their personalities and problems are so honest and real that I’m under the impression that these are people she must have met in her own legal career. And this is why I’m so frustrated with the fact that a lot of the characters feel underdeveloped. I so badly want to know more about Maria and Jagdesh and Annie that everytime Flint switches to another subplot I get so mad.

There are also some aspects about the police force that I wish she would expand on and it kills me when she doesn’t. The one part that I really want her to further expand on is the notion that dealing with murder cases isn’t the way to go for ambitious law enforcers. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that mentioned in a crime novel. I know Flint has previously worked in law enforcement so this has to come from her personal experience and I need more details about this point.

I also love that Flint genuinely knows so much about the culture of each of the place that she writes. There are so much specific details about Singapore that it could only have been written by someone who’s lived there and really interacted with the people. I always love it when a writer loves people and new places and it always shows in their writing. I hate unnecessary cynicism.

For all of its charm, Inspector Singh doesn’t have the same impact that I hoped it would. I would still encourage people to read at least the first novel if they want to experience Asian crime fiction, but I’m still waiting on something better and more capable of being truly iconic to come along.

On Another Note

I checked Wikipedia and there’s only six in the series. I impulsively bought Number Five at a Second Hand Sale so I think I will finish off the series because I don’t like gaps in my collections so I’ll buy Number Four and that means only Number Six is left. After that I think I’ll have to let this go, even if Flint continues it, unless Number Four is a surprise.

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