Shamini Flint is a former lawyer who travelled extensively in East and Southeast Asia in her legal career and her familiarity with the area shines through all of her Inspector Singh crime stories. A Calamitous Chinese Killing is Inspector Singh’s sixth outing in print. The Singaporean police officer travels all over Asia searching for criminals. Previous books have been set in Cambodia, Bali and India. Shamini Flint sold over a million copies of her books and can certainly be called an expert in the genre of crime fiction. Flint explains in an interview that she wanted to write an Asian book about nasty, ordinary Asian people killing each other for perfectly rational reasons based in the present. And that’s what she did.
Inspector Singh is a rotund, turban wearing Sikh police officer, and a man who gets results in some rather unorthodox ways. The newspapers like to call him the “curry cop”, the “poppadom policeman”. To Superintendent Chen, Singh is an annoyance. So when Chen is offered the chance to get rid of his peculiar detective for a short while, he jumps at the opportunity.
Jason Tan, the son of the First Secretary at the Singapore Embassy in China has been bludgeoned to death in a Beijing alley. Although the local police have dismissed the death as a street robbery gone wrong, the boy’s mother, Susan Tan thinks otherwise. She has heard of Singh’s reputation and insists that he is the only man capable of finding her son’s murderer. This is how the Inspector finds himself flying business class to China, where his size, shape, beard, turban and habit of wearing white tennis shoes certainly makes him stand out from the crowds.
In Inspector Singh, Flint has created a one-off character whose methods may be unorthodox, but certainly produce results. There isn’t a police profiler, DNA sample kit or taser in sight – Singh believes strongly in following his gut feeling. Singh deservedly takes the starring role in the novel, but supporting characters are also carefully constructed. There is Li Jun, a former member of the Beijing police force who helps Inspector Singh in his investigations; the ambitious Special Forces police officer Fu Xinghua; Jason’s parents Susan and Anthony who insist on resolving the case; a young woman named Qing who claims to have information about Jason’s death – which puts her in danger; Jason’s rebellious former mentor Professor Luo and, finally, the corrupt and power-hungry Dai Wai. Next to resolving the murder, Flint addresses several highly controversial issues: She mentions the falun gong movement and the illegal organ transplantation market. The rural-urban divide in China and the challenges people face when trying to better their lives. Flint addresses unfair evictions for “modernization” purposes (i.e. the construction of a mall in a residential area, for which the local residents are forced to move and they are only poorly recompensed). Flint briefly addresses the difficult relations between Singapore and China – Chinese immigrants are feared to flood Singapore and especially Chinese women are suspected of ‘stealing’ Singaporean men. Like all of the Inspector Singh books, A Calamitous Chinese Killing is a great piece of genre fiction that takes up different political issues, but also keeps it relatively light and humorous.