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Intrepid sleuth delights in sequel, Arts News & Top Stories

FICTION

THE BETEL NUT TREE MYSTERY

By Ovidia Yu

Constable/Paperback/312 pages/ $18.95/Books Kinokuniya

four stars


Hot on the heels of charming colonial crime novel The Frangipani Tree Mystery comes a sequel by veteran native author Ovidia Yu, who strikes from energy to energy with the return of intrepid sleuth Chen Su-Lin, who continues to be an absolute delight.

A Peranakan orphan decided to turn into a journalist, she has found employment as a secretarial assistant on the newfound Detective and Intelligence Unit, headed by British Chief Inspector Thomas Le Froy.

Eminently sensible, Su-Lin has no time for the gossip round English King Edward VIII’s abdication to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

But when rich British rake Victor Glossop is found dead and coated in betel juice stains within the grand Farquhar Hotel on the eve of his marriage ceremony to American widow Nicole Covington, Su-Lin needs in on fixing the thriller.

Against Le Froy’s will, Su-Lin finally ends up as chaperone to the extremely strung Nicole, who is satisfied she brings loss of life and destruction to throughout her.

Su-Lin is the type of younger lady who, when her greatest pal Parshanti gushes over the romance of a public proposal, thinks to herself: “I would have preferred a more private proposal myself so I could say, ‘Let me think about it’, then check on the man and his family.”

Yet she herself will not be excellent in judgment, as we quickly see by way of Yu’s reluctance to let any of her vibrant forged of complicated characters lapse into stereotype.

One could write Nicole off at first as a shallow drama queen and poor mom, however there are extra layers to her.

The relationship between Su-Lin and Le Froy can be shaping as much as be an intriguing one, wavering between skilled respect and protecting mentorship.

Su-Lin’s grandmother, the highly effective matriarch of an area crime household, asks Le Froy at one level to behave as “sifu” (trainer) to her erstwhile granddaughter, which guarantees to be an attention-grabbing dynamic.

While the novel is ready within the 1930s, it is filled with up to date nods – from the #MeToo motion lampshaded in a stomach-churning expertise of sexual harassment – to the rise of the alt-right, right here by way of Adolf Hitler’s coming to energy in Germany.

“Chancellor Hitler is just a businessman and an opportunist. Nobody takes him seriously,” Le Froy says dismissively. How we all know higher.

There can be some meta-commentary on Orientalist tropes (“It’s my inscrutable look,” Su-Lin informs one other character at one level. “I’m fading into the background by appearing Oriental and harmless.”)

One seems ahead very a lot to the final instalment within the trilogy.

If you want this, learn: Aunty Lee’s Delights by Ovidia Yu (William Morrow, 2013, $24.61, Books Kinokuniya), during which a nosy Peranakan chef-turned-sleuth seems right into a homicide after certainly one of her company fails to indicate up at a cocktail party.

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