The head of a prestigious law firm is discovered by his partners when they arrive for a mysterious, late-night meeting. The building is locked with key-card entry, so it seems likely that the killer is one of the people called to the meeting. But perhaps it could have been his new wife, a former maid in need of money? So begins The Singapore School of Villainy, with a classic murder scenario with a limited pool of suspects. Instead of the nebulous trouble in Bali in the former novel, this allows Flint to focus on character-building, including giving the reader their first glimpse at the formidable Mrs. Singh.
With the prominent case, Singh’s chief detective gives him a whole squad of officers to help with footwork, a waste as far as Singh is concerned, although it does mean he won’t have to use foot power or scuff his bright white sneakers. He’s also given the services of Fong, who is hoping to learn from the greatest but feels like he is more often reduced to waitstaff. I missed more details of the Singapore setting; I understood the issues with Singapore politics and the desire for law and order, but it lacked much of a sense of the physical, perhaps because of the limitations to the law firm. The mystery was solid, although Inspector Singh often seems to come by solutions through no work of his own.
What holds me back from loving it, however, is the general unlikability of almost everyone here, including the Inspector. With Hercule Poirot, one has perhaps a sense of his comic mustache, his rotund stomach, his mannerisms, but at least he is usually competent and occasionally kind to the suspects. Here, well–let me just say that the descriptions don’t feel as fond, and perhaps there is too much of the negative without balancing concern. For instance, I was kind of surprised that Singh would care at all about his chief learning of a relative visiting for dinner; Singh is usually blatantly disrespectful, so it seems incongruous and passes up a chance for him to positively connect with family and tweak his superior’s nose. Much of the humor comes from laughing (if one does) at character foibles, embarrassing situations (food on a tie or Inspector huffing up the stairs), and mocking the Inspector’s superior, Chen, rather than witty dialogue.
Overall, enjoyable with solid mystery plotting in an interesting setting. I’ll just have to make sure I leaven the reads with more positively heroic characters in between.