The Frangipani Tree Mystery
by Ovidia Yu
Constable

Ovidia Yu is one of Singapore’s most popular playwrights and novelists, specialising in elegant mysteries with a culinary twist. The Frangipani Tree Mystery begins a new, darker series, but is still appetising.

It’s 1936, and the dreams of our young heroine, Su Lin, of a career in journalism, are dashed when her Uncle Chen decides to marry her off. Luckily, she has a forward-thinking defender.

“You ignorant backward man, you can’t just marry off Su Lin!” shouts Su’s teacher, Miss Vanessa Palin. “This is 1936! Women have rights!”

Salvation arrives in the form of a job: as governess to the governor’s daughter. If this sounds like a 19th-century English novel, the impression only deepens when Su learns the previous incumbent (a young Irish nanny) died in mysterious circumstances. A second death attracts the attention of Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy, more than aided by Su herself.

An intriguing political situation (Japanese militarism, the abdication of England’s Edward VIII) is the backdrop to an arresting plot. Yu’s central pair make a nicely contrasting couple and more than warrant further stories.