About the Author
SHAMINI FLINT is a Cambridge graduate and former lawyer. In addition to the Inspector Singh series, she is the author of several highly regarded children’s books.
Read an Excerpt
Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder
By Shamini Flint
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2008 Shamini Flint
All rights reserved.
The accused, Chelsea Liew, was in court. She sat on a wooden bench in a wooden box, handcuffed to a police woman.
The prosecutor, a large, shiny Malay man, marking time until his own elevation to the Bench, watched the court official read out the charge in a slow, ponderous voice, 'That you, Chelsea Liew, on or about the eighteenth day of July, committed murder by causing the death of Alan Lee.'
The judge said, 'How does the accused plead? Guilty or not guilty?'
The shrivelled old man with large, yellow, herbivorous teeth and a thick head of implausibly black hair managed to inject a wealth of disbelief into the possibility of a not guilty plea. Many of the judges in Malaysia were drawn from the civil service, which meant they had previously been public prosecutors themselves. Their instincts were conservative and their sympathies rarely with the accused in criminal trials.
Chelsea's lawyer, a tall, thin Indian man with a large Adam's apple bobbing above his white, winged collar, struggled for diplomatic words that would not involve criticising any party for whom the judge had sympathy – basically, everyone except his client. 'My Lord, the evidence is circumstantial. The police and prosecution have rushed to judgement because this is a high profile case. The charges should be dismissed outright.'
Teeth were exposed in a parody of a smile. The judge, hunched over his elevated table, black gown bunched about his shoulders, looked more like a vulture than a member of the Bench. He said, 'Guilty or not guilty?'
The lawyer recognised a lost cause. He stole a quick nervous glance at the woman in the dock. At last the accused muttered, 'Not guilty.' Her lawyer sighed with relief.
The judge rapped his gavel. 'Accused to be remanded in custody until trial dates fixed.'
Her defence lawyer made one last attempt to assist his client. 'My lord, this is an unusual case involving a mother of three. Although bail is not usually granted where the charge is murder ...'
He was interrupted. 'Application for bail denied!'
The judge stood and the lawyers, members of the public in the gallery and court staff rose hastily to their feet. No one was permitted to sit in the august presence of the law. Even, thought the lawyer angrily, if it was personified by an incompetent, semi-senile old man with a stunted sense of justice. Gown billowing, the judge walked out – his work done for the day.
Chelsea's lawyer slumped back into his chair, shoulders bowed. The prosecution team looked pleased. Only the accused did not react. Her anger and emotion had been spent long before her marriage had culminated in the murder of her husband. She stared at the ground between her feet. When a policewoman took her arm and led her out, she went without resisting.
Inspector Singh was wedged into a small plastic seat at Changi Airport. Hunched up, his belly compressed his lungs. His fleshy, sweaty knees were pressed together chastely to avoid inadvertent brushes with the people on either side. Inspector Singh had a strong dislike of physical contact with strangers. Unfortunately, his girth made it difficult for him not to encroach onto their seats. His shirt was wilting and his shirt pocket, full of pens, was tearing slightly at the corner. Patches of damp were visible under his armpits and just above his belly. Only his white sneakers looked as fresh as when he had put them on before setting out for the office – blissfully unaware that he was about to be assigned to the case that he had, only that morning, been reading about in the newspapers. He remembered feeling sorry for the policeman who had the dismal task of finding the murderer of Alan Lee. He felt much sorrier now that he knew it was himself.
Inspector Singh was waiting for a flight to Kuala Lumpur. He sighed, a breathy, wheezy sound; a heavy smoker, his breathing always sounded strained. He needed a cigarette but smoking was prohibited indoors and pretty much everywhere else in Singapore. He wondered whether he dared nip outside for a fag. As much as he viewed his assignment in Malaysia with trepidation, he did not want to miss his queue number. Singh knew he would not be on the case if he was not the unofficial 'most likely to be forced into early retirement' entry in the Singapore police yearbook. He sighed again, causing his neighbour, a middle-aged white woman, to glance at him surreptitiously. Singh knew what she was thinking. A dark man in a turban who seemed worried and preoccupied? She was hoping not to be on the same flight as him. Singh had neither the patience nor the inclination to explain to her that the six metres of cloth that he had wound around his head expertly that morning into a black, pointy turban reflected his heritage as a Sikh. It did not indicate terrorist proclivities and neither, for that matter, did anyone else's turban.
Singh felt his need for a cigarette sharpen. To hell with it. He would have to risk missing his flight. He felt in his trouser pocket for the reassuring rectangle of his cigarette packet and hauled himself with difficulty out of his seat. He wiped his forehead along the band of his turban with the back of his hand. It itched when he was hot.
He lumbered towards the exit and was brought up short by the sound of raised voices. He looked around with mild curiosity. It did not take him long to identify the source and cause of the altercation. Two men squaring-off. One white, the other Chinese. On the First Class carpet. It seemed that they had converged on the desk at the same moment and were now disputing right of way.
Singh really didn't feel like interfering. He took a step towards the exit and then glanced back. He saw the long-suffering expressions on the faces of those queuing up to fly 'cattle' class and made up his mind. He moved silently towards the men, his sneakers muffling his approach. Not that they would have heard him anyway. They were so engrossed in shouting each other down. The white man was beefy and red-necked, his nose a mosaic of broken veins. The Chinese man was slim and fit, wearing the yuppie uniform of polo shirt and chinos, his expensive matching luggage in a heap by his side.
Singh walked up to the men standing almost toe to toe, placed a fat-fingered hand on each man's chest and shoved. They parted like the Red Sea. The white man tripped over the edge of the deep blue First Class carpet and barely avoided falling over. He said angrily, 'Who the hell do you think you are?'
The Chinese man nodded to second the question, his face contorted with rage. Singh was amused to see this united front between the erstwhile combatants.
He smiled pleasantly and said, 'Inspector Singh, Singapore Police Force.'
Both men looked disbelieving. Singh didn't blame them. He was an overweight, sweaty, hairy, unconvincing example of a policeman.
He asked, 'So what's this about?'
'He took my place in the queue!'
'No! He cut in front of me.'
The pretty woman behind the check-in counter rolled her eyes at Singh.
Singh looked at the two men, one eyebrow raised thoughtfully.
Then he turned his back abruptly on them and walked over to the Economy queue. He counted out the first ten and beckoned to them imperiously. The passengers looked doubtful but succumbed to Singh's air of authority and followed him. He gestured to the First Class check-in and they lined up quietly, one tiny woman in a saree saying sheepishly, 'But I only have an economy ticket.'
'Not to worry, madam,' said Singh politely.
He turned to the two men, 'You two – at the back of this line.'
'What do you mean?' blustered the Caucasian.
'You heard me, get in line here.'
'Behind all these people?'
'You can't do that!' It was the Chinese man.
'I've just done it ...'
'I'll have your badge for this!' he stammered angrily.
Singh grinned, suddenly happy. He said, 'There's a long queue for that too!'
He waddled back towards his seat, ticket stub between clammy fingers. There was no time left for a cigarette. But it had been worth it.
Forty-five minutes later he was on the plane, sitting next to an elderly Malay man wearing a white shift, open sandals and a neat, white, round turban on his head. The Malay man grinned at Singh as he sat down, baring sparse, long teeth clinging to red, receding gums. But after a brief inquiry had elicited that his companion was Singaporean, the older man lost interest and slumped back in his chair.
The plane juddered and Singh looked nervously out of the window. He could see the coastline of Peninsular Malaysia. Singapore, a small island separated from the Malaysian mainland by a thin strip of water, the Straits of Johor, and connected by two bridges, had disappeared from view.
He forced his mind back to the matter at hand – the reason for this unexpected trip to Malaysia. He had the file in his briefcase but he did not take it out. There was no privacy on board the aircraft to be reading the details. Besides, he knew the skimpy facts by heart. It was the depth of passion running beneath the surface that had occupied the newspapers in Malaysia and Singapore for the last couple of weeks and promised to make the case a nightmare. Inspector Singh's superiors had decided that the poisoned chalice would be his. From their point of view it was a splendid choice. If he managed to find a way through the thicket of politics overwhelming the case, they would claim the credit. If he failed, they would hang him out to dry, pleased to get rid of one of the last mavericks in the Singapore police. His was not an organisation that appreciated instinct over method, results over means, footwork over paperwork. He was the elephant in the room that no one talked about but everyone hoped would do the decent thing and take early retirement. As he had not done it so far, he was on a small plane, enduring a bumpy flight, to a town up in arms.
Inspector Singh was quite convinced there was absolutely no possibility of a successful resolution to the case he had just been handed. There never was when religion trumped rational behaviour and politics influenced police work. Malaysia and Singapore were both former British colonies, once part of the same country but now two suspicious and independent neighbours. For both countries, every act of state by the other was potentially a threat or an insult. The tabloid press and politicians in both countries were competing for airtime by issuing the most inflammatory statements. There was talk of 'unwarranted interference in domestic affairs' by Malaysian officials. Singapore officialdom had adopted a superior tone about 'justice being seen to be done'.
And yet, thought Inspector Singh, the historical and family ties that bound the two nations together were stronger than the disputes that divided them. But that just exacerbated every disagreement between the countries. Between Malaysia and Singapore, there was none of the polite distance and formal dispute resolution of strangers – every difference of opinion was a family feud. And there were all too many opinions being vented in newspapers and online about his new case.
The plane came in to land over undulating hills covered in neat grids of oil palm. Singh caught a glimpse of the Formula One racetrack – yet another project by the previous government to drag Malaysia onto the world stage. Mahathir, the previous prime minister, was convinced that as long as he built the biggest, the best and the most expensive of everything, Malaysia would be treated with respect by the international community. Predictably, Malaysia had instead become a byword for the funding and construction of white elephants.
Singh walked towards the trains linking the Kuala Lumpur International Airport terminal building and the arrival hall. The ceiling above was lit with hundreds of small lights intended to look like the stars at night. He had read somewhere that a computer program had been used to locate the lights randomly and so no pattern was detectable. He scowled. Programmed randomness struck him as an oxymoron. He caught the connecting train and was further irritated. It was automated – did not have a driver. Inspector Singh had spent a career exploring the fallibility of man but he preferred the risk of human error to the certainty of electronic indifference to his well-being. Moments later, he stepped out of the air-conditioned coolness of the terminal into the sweltering tropical heat.
Singh strolled to the massed ranks of Mercedes Benz and climbed into the back of the first one. The Malay driver – almost all the drivers on the authorised limousine service were Malay – had an unkempt, wispy, black beard. His car on the other hand was immaculate. A verse of the Quran was plastered on the rear window. Inspector Singh did not read Arabic but he knew the expression was 'There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his only Prophet'. Across the glove compartment there was another sticker with the words 'You'll Never Walk Alone' emblazoned next to a logo of Liverpool Football Club.
Noticing the inspector looking at it, the driver asked, 'You Liverpool supporter?'
Inspector Singh watched continuous cricket coverage on the cable cricket channel in Singapore. But he felt mischievous and said, 'No, Manchester United.' He had forgotten that United was no longer the hate figure of the football world.
The driver nodded sympathetically. 'Very hard now for other teams. Chelsea boss got all the money.' He guffawed, exposing two rows of gold fillings that Singh could see glinting in the rearview mirror. 'Last time, what is important is who wins the game. Now what is important is who has the richest boss. Bagi orang kaya trophy sahaja!' Give the rich man the trophy right away!
Inspector Singh laughed and then pulled out the newspaper he had picked up on the plane and settled down to read the latest on the matter that had brought him to Kuala Lumpur.CHAPTER 2
'There is nothing for you to do here! I don't know why you came. The Malaysian police can handle everything. You should go back now.' The speaker's moustache, a neat black brush with flecks of grey, bristled angrily as he shouted at the man across the desk from him. His eyes, under straight, thick brows, glared at the inspector from a nut-brown face.
Inspector Singh remained expressionless. He said, 'You have no choice and I have no choice. So we can do this the easy way or the hard way.' Seeing that the Malaysian Superintendent of Police was unmoved by this call to reason he added, 'After all, neither of us wants to see a miscarriage of justice.'
The officer did not respond. He sat at his desk, drumming his fingers on the table in an impatient tattoo. His desktop was devoid of anything that looked work related. Perhaps, thought Singh, the higher-ups in Malaysia merely waited around behind big, empty desks until there was an opportunity to throw their weight around with some foreign cop. He knew from his own experience in Singapore that the further up the ladder one got, the more the job was about politics and statistics than actually dealing with crime.
The Malaysian policeman was waiting for some reaction from his Singaporean counterpart. Singh wondered if he was expected to acknowledge the wisdom of the man's remarks, pick up his bags and head back to Singapore with his tail between his legs. Surely it was obvious that his superiors in Singapore had more leverage over him than the officer glowering at him across the desk? Still, if there was a waiting game to be played, Inspector Singh was a past master. He sat nonchalantly in the chair, eyeing a display of plastic flowers in a plastic vase.
The Malaysian was the first to blink. He stood up, walked over to a filing cabinet, slid open a drawer and took out a large folder.
He said, 'I do not like it but certain quarters have demanded that I cooperate. This is what we have done so far. We have the wife in custody. You can see her if you like. You can interview any other person in Malaysia but only if they agree. We cannot make anyone talk to you. I will send you my ADC. He will assist you.'
And watch my every move and report back to you, thought the inspector, but he did not say anything. This was a higher level of cooperation, however reluctant, than he had expected. Pressure must have been brought to bear at the highest levels. He nodded his thanks to the scowling man and picked up the folder.
The Malaysian leaned forward and put two splayed hands on the table. He said, 'One more thing: if you overstep your authority, I will put you in the jail cell next to the accused. And I don't think the Singapore government will send anyone to rescue you!'
Inspector Singh nodded cheerfully, assuming correctly that amusement would be the response that his opposite number would find most infuriating. He wondered when Malaysian officialdom would get over its need to indulge in theatrical bullying.
A few strides later he was out of the door. The muffled sound of footsteps caused him to turn round and he saw a young policeman hurrying after him. Singh stopped and waited.
'Sir!' A smart salute accompanied the greeting. 'I am Sergeant Shukor, aide-de-camp to Superintendent Khalid Ibrahim. He asked me to help you with this case.'
Excerpted from Inspector Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder by Shamini Flint. Copyright © 2008 Shamini Flint. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Cathy of the Kittling:Books blog has been writing about Inspector Singh books for a while now and her reviews were so funny I just had to try one. I borrowed this one from the library. It turns out Cathy is right; I'm going to look for the rest of the series now.Inspector Singh is a police detective in Singapore. For this case he has been sent to Kuala Lumpur to investigate the case of a former model from Singapore who has been accused of killing her ex-husband. Since Singh is obese and unused to Kuala Lumpur, he sweats, gets his shiny shoes dusty, unwillingly visits his gossipy sister, faces down the opposition of the local police force to his intrusion, and resents his minder. The victim, Alan Lee, was the president of a huge logging company which has been clear-cutting in Borneo and causing all kinds of violent trouble for the people and animals on that island. Lee was a wife beater, and cheated on his gorgeous wife frequently as he enjoyed his money and let his youngest brother run the company. The middle brother, Jasper, is an ecologist investigating his younger brother's misuse of power. Meanwhile, the victim's wife had divorced him but was in danger of losing her children because Alan Lee had converted to Islam before he died and the Islamic Court would probably rule against letting the children be raised by a non-Moslem woman.Now all this is very serious stuff, but Singh is unconsciously hilarious. The contrast between him and the others on the case is, as author Shamini Flint writes, "Mohammad led the way, walking with long-limbed elegance. Shukor padded silently in his wake, Singh lumbered after them. A study in physical contrasts, they looked like a procession that was not just walking along a corridor but up the evolutionary chain as well."Flint is a writer with a light touch but her characters are drawn swiftly and precisely. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Kuala Lumpur, especially when Singh got lost in the city. You think of a sharp detective as a man who can chase suspects, is an excellent shot, yet cerebral. Singh is anything but this kind of detective but he surely gets the job done. He's a great character and I liked this book very much.
First Line: The accused, Chelsea Liew, was in court.Portly Inspector Singh is at the top of the Singapore Police's "early retirement" wish list. It seems that Singh is notoriously difficult to deal with, and they just want to wash their hands of him. So when former Singapore resident and top model Chelsea Liew is accused of murdering her husband, his superiors see this as an excellent opportunity to be Singh-free for a while.In no time at all, Inspector Singh finds himself in Kuala Lumpur complete with an "aide", Sergeant Shukor of the Malaysian police. Singh didn't just fall off the turnip truck that morning-- he knows that Shukor is following his every step not to help, but to spy. Be that as it may, Singh relishes his relative freedom and begins to track down all the "players".Chelsea Liew was in the midst of a divorce from her wealthy husband, Alan Lee. The most heated part of the proceedings concerned custody of their children. Without warning, Lee informed everyone that he had converted to Islam and declared his children Muslim so only the religious courts had jurisdiction over custody. When she heard this, Chelsea threatened to kill Alan, so when he was found shot to death soon afterward, the police focused on her and no one else. Inspector Singh talks to many people and begins putting pieces of information together. He knows the answer is not a simple "Chelsea did it."I have to admit that author Shamini Flint had me in the palm of her hand by page 8 of this book when two self-important men are fighting for a better place in line at the airport: "You heard me, get in line here." "Behind all these people?" "Yup." "You can't do that!" It was the Chinese man. "I've just done it..." "I'll have your badge for this!" he stammered angrily. Singh grinned, suddenly happy. He said, "There's a long queue for that too!"It's probably got something to do with the fact that I had obnoxious souls in my face trying to intimidate me by threatening to write to my superiors to have me fired. My normal response was to spell my name very carefully to avoid confusion. But to get back to this marvelous book....Flint seemed to treat each one of her characters with extraordinary care-- even the obnoxious ones. It didn't take long for me to feel as though I'd known everyone in the book for years. Kuala Lumpur is described so well that I feel as though I'd actually been there, and Flint adds just enough information on current events to make the place come to life.Wonderful characters in a fully realized setting-- and a plot with surprises all along the way. I thoroughly enjoyed Inspector Singh and his visit to Malaysia. I can't wait to get my hands on his other adventures! (I also have a feeling that I know why his superiors want him to retire: he follows the spirit of the law even better than he follows the letter of the law.)
A nice , fun read in the classic British Agatha Christy mystery style. Not a thriller, more intellectual, but a bit different because of the Asian setting. Not a page-turner you can't put down, but I found I wanted to finish it. The author has the potential to develop into a very polished writer of well-crafted stories, I suspect each book will become better and better. Worth watching out for, I may well seek out her other books.
Read this on a whim, and it was a real pleasure! I enjoy mysteries, but don't read them all that often, so am judging this from the overall story standpoint rather than solely on mystery criteria. This falls into my light reading/pageturner category, yet it was reasonably well-written. Really enjoyed "meeting" Inspector Singh in this first book, and am looking forward to reading the next books in this mystery series! Will be recommending to my friends and family (spouse will be reading it next!).