enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Ovidia Yu, The Frangipani Tree Mystery

I read this book about 1-Apr-2020. This is the first time I've read this book. The book is copyright 2017. This note was last modified Saturday, 04-Apr-2020 11:55:36 PDT.

This is book 1 of the "Crown Colony" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Historical mysteries set in Singapore shortly before WWII. Focused on Su Lin, a young adult from a somewhat successful local criminal family (she doesn't realize this, really, until somewhere in the middle of the book) who has been trained in Western schools enough to see possibilities opening up for women in the 20th century, and wants her share.

This book was recommended by Stephen Stirling on Facebook. I'm fond of historical mysteries, and he said the period was handled well.

Su Lin manages has just met the Chief Inspector for the area, and happens to be with him when he's called to a fatal accident at the house of the acting governor of Singapore.

Chapter 1 is titled "This is 1936! Women Have Rights!". It's shouted by an English do-gooder (broad-based variety; teaching the natives as well as raising the status of women).

I found it took some work for me to get through the first three or four chapters. But I somewhat expected that, and persisted, and in fact it became less work and more fun fairly shortly. Introducing an era different from our own is in some ways harder than introducing a completely made-up environment as is frequently done in fantasy and science-fiction. And writers outside of fantasy and science-fiction haven't, that I can tell, realized that's a field of study of its own, and generally haven't absorbed by osmosis how the better SF authors do it.

I know very little about the period and place so I can't comment about accuracy. It seems reasonably consistent and doesn't raise red flags for me, at least.

Not going to run through a plot summary. Plenty happens, Su Lin sees important things (and impresses Chief Inspector Le Froy with her observational skills and knowledge), makes some mistakes, takes risks knowingly and unknowingly. Her mistakes don't look stupid, not for her background (as a mystery reader I did say "oh no!" a couple of times, but I didn't feel she should have known better).

In the end she gets a job with the police (Le Froy is promoted and authorized to hire a bunch of experts on native language and culture, remember how cross-cultural Singapore is, and she is offered one of the positions).

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David Dyer-Bennet