First sentence: Justin Tan stood at the main junction of the old hutong, a neighborhood of old courtyards dating from Imperial times, and stared down narrow alleyways that disappeared quickly into Darkness.
Justin Chan the 23-year old son of the first secretary at the Singapore Embassy in China has been murdered. Chinese security believes it was a robbery gone wrong. The young man’s mother isn’t satisfied. Inspector Singh has been sent to solve the crime hopefully without causing an international incident.
We open with fear, danger, and many questions. The contrast from that, to meeting Inspector Singh and his wife is very well executed. Still another shift leaves one impressed by how effectively Flint changes both the scene and the tone of the story.
Finch has such a captivating voice one finds oneself wanting to read and share passages with someone else - "A murder investigation was not laser-like in its intensity, following a certain path to the truth. It was a bright white beam that lit up hidden corners and dark where the family skeletons where hidden." She also adds just the right touch of the metaphysical--"She flinched at his words and the hairs on Singh’s neck stood up along the base of his turban. Suddenly, it was as if was a presence in the room, erase come to demand did the policeman from Singapore do his duty and not be so keen to accept the official version of the events."
Injections of subtle humor, often as part of Singh's narrative, are a delightful offset to the story—“Singh's stomach growled its concurrence before he had a chance to speak... He decided that, remarkably, he was prepared to eat more Chinese food. What was happening to him? Next, have to call himself a food tourist and write a travel book." It is also interesting to learn some of the elements of being a Sikh even though inspector Singh is a very poor example of a practicing Sikh. Yet, for all his foibles, it's hard not to admire him-- "It might be the Chinese way to label a person - terrorist, communist capitalist, a government activist - and then forget about his essential humanity, his inalienable rights. He wouldn't fall into that trap." The story is also a stark reminder of the system of oppression and injustice which exists in many countries today.
The suspense, danger, intrigue escalate at a nice pace. As it grows it's a pleasure to watch Singh put together the pieces of the puzzle one by one. The inclusion of a very good plot twist makes things more fascinating still. Yet we also feel Singh’s frustration at not being able to put all the pieces together in a way he could initially prove.
“A Calamitous Chinese Killing” is yet another good read in an excellent series with an ending that is satisfactory and yet rather sad.
Inspector Singh Investigates: A Calamitous Chinese Killing (Pol Proc-Insp. Singh-China-Cont) - G+
Flint, Shamini – 6th in series
Virago - 2013