Book review: S'pore detective punches his way through London's racists

Neil Humphreys throws in twist after twist as the novel rushes propulsively towards its climax.
Neil Humphreys throws in twist after twist as the novel rushes propulsively towards its climax.PHOTOS: ST FILE, MUSWELL PRESS

Bloody Foreigners

By Neil Humphreys
Thriller/ Muswell Press/ Paperback/ 315 pages/$27.82/ Available here
3 out of 5

Another day, another dead man in London's Chinatown. A slight twist this time: The man stabbed to death is not Chinese, but Singaporean student Mohamed Kamal.

His murder is a tipping point for a London on the verge of a race war, as Brexit tensions and far-right xenophobia spill into the streets.

But down these mean streets a man must go, and that man is Detective Inspector Stanley Low. The Singapore Police Force does not want him back. London wishes he never showed up. But his countryman is dead, and now it is time for some foreign interference.

Fans of Singapore-based Briton Neil Humphrey's previous novels, Marina Bay Sins (2015, available here) and Rich Kill Poor Kill (2016, available here), will rejoice at the return of Low, a hard-boiled, bipolar sleuth who will soon be getting his own television series by international producer 108 Media.

Dispatched to the London School of Economics to give a criminology lecture, Low is brought onto the case by the detective in charge, Ramila Mistry - once the love of his life, now married to her white subordinate with a young son.

She needs his help - "a bit of your Singlish bollocks", as she puts it - to solve the case.

Humphreys delivers the goods in punchy prose so rife with melodrama, one can hear the lines narrated like the trailer for a summer blockbuster.

Between the rise in anti-Asian violence in the West and the recent racist abuse of England's football players, the novel is timely - though it can feel like the timeliness is being shouted in one's ear.

Still, it goes to some lengths to distinguish the varieties of its racists, who have diverse motivations inextricable from class concerns.

Low swaggers through it all, beating up white supremacists, swearing in Hokkien and tossing out pithy one-liners like "Winston Churchill in retreat. A Singaporean hasn't seen that since 1942". He is a mess, but a magnetic one.

Humphreys throws in twist after twist as the novel rushes propulsively towards its climax. Someday, it is going to make for cracking good TV.

If you like this, read: The Waiter by Ajay Chowdhury (Harvill Secker, 2021, $29.95, available here). After a Bollywood homicide case goes awry, disgraced detective Kamil Rahman moves from Kolkata to London to become a waiter. But then he gets dragged into investigating the murder of a customer.

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