Monday, October 28, 2013


Shamini Flint's The Singapore School of Villainy is a good police procedural. 

Singapore homicide Inspector Singh investigates the murder of a wealthy expatriate lawyer. 

The turban-wearing Singh is what I would call the Nero Wolfe of police procedurals. He is overweight. He is a genius at what he does. And he solves crimes by listening to people tell their stories.

One difference between Singh and Wolfe is that many people underestimate Singh's genius.

At one point Singh says, “I'm a student of human nature, young man—that is how I solve murders!” 

In this book Singh investigates three murders, drug trafficking, embezzlement, and the personal lives of all the partners in the victim's law firm. He finds a host of suspects. In addition to all the partners, there are the victim's wife and ex-wife. 

The Singapore School of Villainy has an underlying humor which makes it special. At one point, Singh's superior insists that he let a prominent drug user caught with cocain go free. The following exchange occurs-- 

What if he killed Mark Thompson?” 

'That's another matter entirely,' Singh's superior said. 'It will show that no killer of an expatriate is immune from prosecution. Justice in Singapore is blind!' 

And incapable of irony, thought Singh, but he kept his mouth shut.” 

The humor is leavened with tragedy. Singh makes a mistake. It costs the life of an innocent man. Singh acknowledges that he will live with that mistake forever. 

In this book, Singapore is more than just a geographic setting. It is a social milieu. Everything is based on social class. Most people base their decisions about you on whether you are gay or straight, a rich foreigner or a servant, prominent or left out.

Singh's wife is among the worst at that. She believes her “nephew” to be innocent until she finds out what she sees as a damning fact about him. Then she sees him as guilty.

Singh himself sees the hypocrisy of this approach. At one point, he says of the law firm, “Firm of lawyers, eh? More like a school of villainy...”

So this is a wonderful book. If you are not acquainted with Inspector Singh, you might want to look him up. 


The dead become a dead weight and are left behind.
Singh strongly believed that until he knew the man he would not know his murderer.
“I will do whatever this job requires without letting misplaced prejudices determine my investigative methods, sir,” said Singh stiffly.
Singapore is one of the last bastions of conservative society. It has an extremely vocal religious crowd—that's why homosexuality is still illegal in the first place. It's sort of like the “red” states in the United States, but without the liberals on the coast.
This case was like a kueh lapis—layer upon layer of secrets and lies.
I learned of this book from the blog Kittling: Books listed in the column on the right.


Richard said...

Joe, these are really enjoyable books, at least the two I've read (not this one). It occurs to me that the quote you use early in this review,

At one point Singh says, “I'm a student of human nature, young man—that is how I solve murders!”

could have also been said by Hercule Poirot.

Joe Barone said...

You are correct. These are enjoyable books. One of the things I've taken to doing is noting when a detective/policeman tells his/her theory of investigation. They often do. Whether it is Spenser stirring things up, or Poirot's "little white cells." Upfield's Bony (one of my favorites) is quiet observation which comes out of his aboriginal heritage. I also look forward to the book where the detective goes against his/her usual method, but I seldom find that book.

Kelly Robinson said...

Singh definitely sounds like he's steeped in the classic detective school.

Joe Barone said...

Kelly, Classic in a quite different way. His methods are "classic." His approach and appearance are not so. He is an interesting and unique character.