Mysteries and thrillers — Book recommendations

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly Singh Investigates: A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder
By Shamini Flint
Minotaur Books, 2010

When Alan Lee, a big timber executive in Malaysia, is killed, police arrest his ex-wife, Chelsea Liew, as their prime — and only — suspect.

With the former Singaporean model on death row, the Singaporean authorities send inspector Singh to Kuala Lumpur to solve the murder. But like his Malay counterparts, Singh comes to the same conclusions after looking into the case. Alan was shot at point-blank range and Chelsea had the biggest motivation to pull the trigger, as the two were in a bitter custody battle over their three children.

To figure out the mystery, Singh must work with the Malaysian police, who are just as happy to work with him as he is with them — that is to say, not at all.

As the inspector digs deeper, more skeletons come out of Alan’s closet and it appears that Chelsea may not be the only one to have a reason to want to kill him.

Like any good mystery, “Malaysian Murder” is full of twists and turns that will have readers guessing until the very end about who the murderer is. Although Singh is the book’s title character, all of Flint’s characters are well developed and complex. Flint weaves a web of mystery that is difficult to untangle — filled with religious conflicts, family drama, and love triangles. It has been a while since I have read a mystery with so much going on, but it will all make sense in the end. I’ve never been a fan of books that leave loose ends, so it is always satisfying to have everything work out like this.

In addition, Flint paints a vivid picture of Kuala Lumpur filled with its hazy skies, busy streets, and varied ethnic population.

For someone with very little knowledge of Malaysia, I found this aspect very interesting and left me wanting to know more about the country. Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken
By Tarquin Hall
Simon & Schuster, 2012

Delhi’s most private investigator, Vish Puri, is back and on the case. This time around, he’s been asked to investigate the murder of the elderly father of a top Pakistani cricket player, whose butter chicken had been poisoned during a post-match dinner.

To solve the murder, Puri must infiltrate the world of illegal gambling and face down the Indian and Pakistani mafias — all the while trying to lose a few pounds to get his wife off his back about his health. The investigation also brings Puri to Pakistan, the last place he’d ever want to step foot in and a country in which many of his family members had been massacred during the partition of India in 1947.

While the investigation brings him across the border, Puri also learns that he has a much closer connection to the case than he’d ever imagined. But in order to solve the case, the private investigator has to bite the bullet and work with the one person he swore never to work with, his Mummy-ji. After all, private detectives are not mummies.

Equal parts intrigue and amusement, “Butter Chicken” will have readers eagerly turning pages — whether it’s to find out who the killer is or to see more of Mummy-ji’s antics. I especially enjoyed seeing how Puri is constantly underestimating his mother, despite the fact that her knowledge and past experiences prove vital on the case. As clever as our protagonist is, it’s clear that he came by it honestly and can still learn a thing or two from Mummy-ji.

As with previous Vish Puri mysteries, there is more than what meets the eye and you never know what leads an individual to become the person they are and to do the things they do. Hall constantly keeps readers guessing who the killer is, as any good mystery writer should. Nail Through the Heart
By Timothy Hallinan
Harper, 2008

After writing a series of travel books about various countries in Southeast Asia, Poke Rafferty decides to settle in Bangkok after falling in love with the city. He has also fallen in love with two females, including Rose, a former go-go dancer he wants to marry, and Miaow, a former street child he wants to adopt.

Things seem to be going great until Poke — nice guy that he is — agrees to help a few people. First, he takes in Superman, a troubled young boy who had taken Miaow under his wing when she was still living on the streets. The only problem is that Poke is constantly warned about how dangerous Superman is by those who know of him and of his reputation. Second, Poke agrees to help an Australian woman look for her missing uncle. His only lead is the uncle’s new maid, who has also gone missing. This leads Poke to his third agreement in finding a thief set on blackmailing the woman he stole from — a woman who happens to strike fear in the hearts of everyone she knows.

“Nail” takes Poke and readers through the dark side of Bangkok, a world filled with corrupted cops, sex trade, and more.

Hallinan doesn’t sugarcoat things and reminds us that danger can be lurking around any corner. But on the other side of things, Hallinan also shows readers the everyday life of a new family trying to find its way — something any of us could relate to. With Rose reluctant to give up her newfound independence and Miaow slowly beginning to trust Poke more and more, it is nice to see a touch of normalcy in a world that seems to have gone mad. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at

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