Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Review: A FRIGHTFULLY ENGLISH EXECUTION
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
Inspector Singh is irate. He's been instructed to attend a Commonwealth conference on policing in London: a job for paper pushers, not real cops, as far as he is concerned. And as if that isn't bad enough, his wife is determined to come along to shop for souvenirs and visit previously unknown relatives.
But it isn't long before the cold case that lands on Singh's ample lap turns into a hot potato and he has to outwit Scotland Yard, his wife and London's finest criminals to prevent more frightful executions from occurring on his watch - or indeed, from being added to their number.
When I first started out as a crime reviewer several years ago, one of my favourite things was discovering 'new-to-me' crime writers that weren't the biggest names around but who wrote superb series with terrific and memorable main characters. Particularly authors who were setting their books somewhere different to the usual US or UK big city locations. The kind of authors that have you going 'look here, try them, they're great'.
One such author was Shamini Flint, the creator of the Inspector Singh series that sees a portly Sikh detective from Singapore traversing Asia solving crimes. I really enjoyed A BALI CONSPIRACY MOST FOUL, set among the aftermath of the horrific real-life Bali bombings, and promptly read a couple more books in the growing series. In the intervening years the series has grown to seven books, with Inspector Singh trying to uncover and capture murderers, terrorists and other ne'er-do-wells in Malaysia, Bali, Singapore, Cambodia, India, China, and now after a hiatus... England.
Inspector Singh's departure from his usual Asian adventures is an entertaining romp through the streets of modern London, brought about by his superiors sending him to a Commonwealth policing conference. When he's assigned the task of looking into how the British police could have better liaised with a minority community that closed ranks during an unsolved murder, Singh can't help but try to solve the murder himself. After he all, he's a murder detective, not a paper pusher.
Shamini Flint is a dab hand at writing books that blend light and dark, mixing comic elements and serious issues. Inspector Singh is a bit of a lovable grump, the kind of character it's hard not to fall for. A rotund, sneakers-wearing Sikh who loves eating, smoking, and drinking, he's a fresh twist on the intellectual detective of the Victorian and Golden Age. He's grumpy, but not at all dour. He loves life, and his job, even if he can't be bothered with the politics, or the henpecking of his wife.
One of the characters in A FRIGHTFULLY ENGLISH EXECUTION describes Singh as a bull in a china shop, and that's an apt description. He barrels about, setting his own course as he tries to catch killers, with little regard for politics or politeness. At the same time, he's a lot smarter than he seems - Columbo-esque in the way he's underestimated. After all, he has the best solve rate in Singapore.
The relationship between Singh and his wife is a delightful one. She's keen to bask in his reflected glory with her relatives, while at the same time wanting to underline that all his success is down to her influence, of course. Singh grumbles about his wife's intrusions and picadillos, but deep down it's clear how much love he has for her. As he investigates the death of a young Asian woman, they're each confronted with thoughts of what might have been in their own family.
As a foreigner now living in London, I found A FRIGHTFULLY ENGLISH EXECUTION particularly enjoyable in the way Flint brought the city to life through the eyes of an outsider. Singh is baffled by some of the things he witnesses, and the differences between London life and what he's experienced in his shiny and modern home city half a world away. Flint evokes some 'cultural differences', without seeming cliched or stereotyped, and the novel touches on some pretty serious modern-day issues, including the threat of homegrown terrorism.
Overall, A FRIGHTFULLY ENGLISH EXECUTION is a fun, engaging read centred on a terrific main character, well rounded out by a good supporting cast and a range of personal and social issues that give the book, and series, plenty of depth despite it's light-hearted tone in parts.
Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 160 crime writers, discussed crime writing at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson