Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Hard boiled, curry flavored

kw: book reviews, mystery, short stories, asian theme

I thought a bit before I started reading Singapore Noir, edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. I like a well-written mystery, and this collection promised good writing, but just as a hammer can be used either to build or to destroy, good writing alone is no guarantee of a worthwhile reading experience.

Of the 14 stories, 11 are murder mysteries, although one is from the point of view of the victim and thus is no "mystery" at all, just noir drama. One is ambiguous, probably involves a murder, but is more about a curse based on native magic and another relates a disappearance that just might have been a killing. The one that is clearly not about murder searingly exposes class envy and cross-cultural love (or something like it, to use the Editor's phrase). Is it a surprise that I skimmed many of these, preferring not to have my nose rubbed in the grime of ugly things?

The last story of the collection deserves mention, the one story that made me unreservedly glad I'd read it. "Murder on Orchard Road" by Nury Vittachi does involve a murder, a very ingenious one. A chronically overworked Feng Shui master finds himself juggling overlapping events amidst high drama while solving the murder almost as an afterthought. Very clever and very well done.

Singapore is an odd place, sometimes called "Disneyland with a death penalty." If the vision of these authors is clear, one can see why.

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