Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Shamini Flint, Agatha Christie with a Social Conscience

My friend Don loves to look for the road not taken. He is constantly coming up with names of books and authors that I've never heard of, telling me how he just followed a link to another link and another and voila! He has introduced me to new worlds that I might otherwise have missed - a fine thing for one who claims to "read around the world."

Thus, today I'll be writing about the quite wonderful Shamini Flint, http://shaminiflint.com/, prolific author of crime novels set throughout southeast Asia. Now that we've found her we won't rest until we've read them all.

If I had to choose an author that Ms. Flint reminds me of, it would be Agatha Christie. Like Miss Marple and Poirot before him, the Sikh Inspector Singh is an over the top character imbued with a list of personal quirks that will endear him to some and annoy others. He's smart and intuitive, selfish and impatient, but he always gets his man. Shamini has created a multi-faceted policeman who generously shares his musings with  the reader, allowing us into the thought processes of a good cop.

I've read three of the novels in the Inspector Singh series so far. Each adheres to a strict formula but it's not in the least off-putting. In fact, it's what drew me to the books. Singh is a Singaporean but his higher-ups are always sending him to other countries where his expertise is needed. One gets the impression that his bosses look for any opportunity to get the pompous detective out of their hair.

Once he arrives at his destination, be it Bali, India, or Cambodia, he acquires a local aide-de-camp, assigned to show him the ropes, but with whom he generally has a testy relationship. It's great fun to watch Singh slowly acclimate to a new culture, grudgingly confer respect on his foreign peers, and eschew the limelight, allowing the locals to take credit for their crime-solving prowess.

Especially impressive is how much factual history and research goes into each book. Shamini Flint was a lawyer before she found her true calling, but she could as well have been an educator. Whether we are learning about the international war crimes tribunal that was held in Phnom Penh after the Cambodian genocide, or getting into the hearts and minds of the terrorists who bombed tourist hotels in Indonesia, Ms. Flint forces readers to open their eyes to multiple points of view.

In "A Curious Indian Cadaver," Flint channels Katherine Boo's "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," by introducing readers to Mrs. Singh's niece, a young scientist who secretly labors in a Mumbai slum where she suspects that the children are being poisoned by effluent from her family's chemical plant. When Ashu disappears it's left to Singh, and we the readers, to decide if she riled up the wrong people or was simply fleeing an arranged marriage - my favorite puzzle so far. Police procedurals with a message? Who could ask for more?

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