Inspector Singh Investigates: A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 May, 2011, 12:00am


Inspector Singh Investigates: A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree
by Shamini Flint

Inspector Singh has become itinerant again. Having solved a murder mystery that took place in a law office in his native low-crime Singapore, in last year's instalment of this series, book four takes the Sikh sleuth to one of Asia's more lawless cities, Phnom Penh.

Inspector Singh finds himself far from his comfort zone (ideally, any half-decent Lion City Indian eatery with sufficiently chilled beer and a smoking area), and he's bewildered by the ways of law enforcement in the Cambodian capital, a setting only a two-hour flight away from prosperous and orderly Singapore, but which may as well be on another planet.

Singh's here as an official Asean observer at a war crimes trial, where the defendants are ex-Khmer Rouge officials and militiamen accused of committing atrocities during Pol Pot's reign.

But during the trial, a serial killer gets to work in and around Phnom Penh, and Singh is soon drawn into the case, through a collection of individuals from central casting, including corrupt local officials, and an elderly Frenchman back in town after an absence of 30 years.

Most of this book's observations on Cambodia-in-transition are on target. Shamini Flint's protagonist is a quick learner in all matters Khmer (except for the language, whose written form resembles, for him, 'so many earthworms'), but Singh is mistaken in assuming he's visiting a communist country. Cambodia officially dispensed with the ideology altogether in 1993.

The inspector's not very worldly, but he's perceptive, and likable in his own gruff way. And when he's being unintentionally funny, he's marvellous - like the time the paunchy epicure fails to hide his displeasure at the insipid fish soup served in the court canteen.

Every landmark on the tourist map of Cambodia crops up in this work, from Angkor Wat (inevitably) to Tuol Sleng Prison and all the other grim Phnom Penh must-sees. And, because of this, Inspector Singh Investigates: A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree, has something of a just-passing-through feeling that one doesn't discern in books one (set in peninsular Malaysia, where Flint grew up) and book three (Singapore, where she lives today). Book two (Bali) is midway along this curve, with Singh again dealing with culture shock.

This instalment in the series doesn't break new ground, but does maintain Flint's high standard of story-telling by means of her unsexy protagonist in sweaty pursuit of the bad guys.

What next for the inspector? The author says book five is set in Singh's ancestral homeland. I don't know what pretext Singh's mean boss, Superintendent Chen, will have for sending him to India, but all kinds of nefarious business are bound to follow. The rapidly expanding readership of this series won't have to wait too long for the next short weird trip.