“Singh remembered that he was on enforced medical leave. It might be ages before he had a juicy murder to deal with if Superintendent Chen had his way. This case – a missing person, a secretive family, a powerful scion, a city of contrasts and a wedding deadline – was certainly not for the fainthearted. But wasn’t he Inspector Singh, leading criminal investigator in Singapore, at least in his own estimation?”
In the prologue provided by the author as a commentary for the reader of the rather significant year, on many levels, of 1984. As it pertains to this story, India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi has been killed and the rumours are running rampant regarding the particulars of how this occurred. Everyone has their own interpretation of what happened from the nosy neighbour to the meddling milkman. When word gets around that she was assassinated by two members of her own security detail, the world for many Sikh families (but one in particular for this book) will never be the same. Profound theme from the onset of this novel is don’t always believe what you hear, and always analyze the source of where information is coming from before irrevocable mistakes are made.
Inspector Singh is not the representation of a physical specimen that you see in Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. You know that one you would think of when imagining the stature of the most successful leading murder investigator”s in Asia. He smokes a lot, he likes to drink, take extended lunches and he is a rather portly man that tends to sweat more than the average man; I suppose this is also the reason that he is vastly unappreciated. With all of his misgivings, he gets the job done and does it in a remarkable way. If you need a reference point, and have seen a fair share of foreign films, think the lead character from Memories of Murder.
Currently on a medical leave, Mr.Singh is holed up in his room with his cynical and traditional wife Mrs.Singh. After begging his wife to go back to work, his wife, much to the approval of Superintendent Chen at the Singapore Police Department takes Mr.Singh back to her home in Mumbai, India for her cousin’s wedding. Like most weddings in this region, it has been arranged by the husband and wife’s family. During a cultural event of this magnitude, the wife Ashu stays in the home before her big day, only to be missing from her bedroom and later found burned to death by an apparent suicide. Inspector Singh is requested by her powerful grandfather Tara Baba Singh to look into the matter rather than going to the police because as he said it:
“The police in India are like a river, Inspector Singh, always taking the path of least resistance.”
Beyond the cozy mystery stigma this story does offer plenty of discussion points and interesting relationship dynamics. Even within the primary family the generational gap is clear as day and divisive among the young and old with The modernization of India vs. traditional values of India. It also happens to be a direct representation of the Singh’s marriage. Mrs.Singh is the very proper, at times cynical, traditional Sikh, and an unabashed realist. Her husband, however; is the naive, modern, optimist, and comfortably living life as a free spirited individual. Inspector Singh would often wear his turban as a security measure rather than a symbol for his religious beliefs, he often ignored the teachings of the various gurus, and he did not overtly seek the status that cars, houses, and club memberships could bring to your life. Mrs.Singh isn’t the most supportive of wives but in spite of being headstrong I guess you could say they’re each other’s better half who complement each other well and are not fixated with the idea of “Keeping up with the Gupta’s.”
By the appearance of the front cover, the font used for the book title, and the blurb highlighting a physically encumbered police officer, one can expect some sort of comical high jinx or Tom foolery. With that said the story in itself is quite heavy with culture clashes, honour/dishonour killings, political/religious strife, corporate environmental irresponsibility and terrorism. From my initial perceptions I was more shocked by the true purpose coinciding with the relative lack of humour. Which in the end is fine by me, I don’t mind a cozy mystery but there definitely are times when you hold your breath as some of the characters make their presence known. On the other hand, Mumbai Police Detective Patel’s constant fudging of common idioms and expressions was quite funny and kept Singh, as well as myself anticipating what he was going to come up with next.
One problem I had with this story were the catalog of involved characters. They all had a role, albeit some were smaller than others, but constantly taking a mental note became tiresome. Beyond that there really weren’t many complaints with this book. I was impressed with the novel and after reviewing some of the author’s prior work in this series I probably won’t go back and read earlier stories of Inspector Singh, but I definitely look forward to where she is going next.
“Singh retreated from the argument hastily. He tried to imagine a world where sons were auctioned off to the highest bidder, Prime Ministers were assassinated, men were murdered in front of their families by angry mobs and young girls killed themselves in dramatic fashion to avoid arranged marriages.”