Singapore Shelf: Murder, she wrote

Ms Jocelyn Suarez started out as a poet, but has just published her debut novel The Flesh Hunters. PHOTOS: MARC NAIR, EPIGRAM BOOKS

In this monthly feature, The Sunday Times lines up three hot-off-the-press home-grown murder mysteries written by women.

The Flesh Hunters

By Jocelyn Suarez
Thriller/ Epigram Books/ Paperback/ 273 pages/$26.64/ Available here

Like many writers, Jocelyn Suarez is intrigued by death. She has, however, had a closer brush with it than most.

In 2014, she contracted Steven-Johnson Syndrome, a rare, life-threatening condition that caused her skin to peel off as her body swelled and her kidneys failed.

She spent a month in a chemically induced coma. At one point, her heart stopped.

"I still feel the traces of it in me," says the 31-year-old. "

It's literally marked on my body. I don't think the scars, seen or unseen, will ever really go away."

Suarez started out as a poet, but has just published her debut novel The Flesh Hunters, a dark thriller about cannibalistic serial killers.

The oncology nurse, who studied psychology at university, spent a year obsessed with psychopaths.

As a child, she devoured stories about serial killers such as Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy and Jane Toppan. During the year of her obsession, she read fiction, non- fiction and even medical texts about psychopathy.

Once, she was standing outside a bar when she saw a trail of ants by the side of the road.

"In my alcohol-and-music- induced haze, I half-wondered if that trail of ants was following the unseen traces of urine of a murdered diabetic in an alley somewhere," she recalls.

She never followed the ants down the dark alley, but murder, she wrote.

In The Flesh Hunters, renowned forensic profiler Walter Kirino is brought in to help the police track down a new Hunter, dubbed The Highway Snatcher.

But Walter remains traumatised by the infamous Harbourview Butcher, who killed and ate nine people and nearly did the same to him before he apprehended her.

As a child, Ms Jocelyn Suarez devoured stories about serial killers such as Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy and Jane Toppan. PHOTO: MARC NAIR

The novel, which was longlisted for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, is set in Osho, a fictional island country based on Singapore, where there are tensions between the indigenous Kaorie people and the fairer-skinned Oshans.

Suarez was born in the Philippines and has lived in Singapore for 16 years. She says the Kaorie culture is inspired by her mother's Bicolana heritage - the Bicolanos are a Filipino ethnolinguistic group - while her father, who has Sino- Japanese blood, was the basis for the Oshans.

A fan of crime mysteries from Sherlock Holmes to Hannibal Lecter, she wrote the first draft of her novel in nine months.

She draws on her own near-death experience in her writing - "the rawness and viscerality of it, the pain and the hope and the long hours of being asleep and being awake" - and infuses it in her characters.

"Very rarely do people get to take a peek on the other side of the veil and while I would say I didn't see much, I've experienced enough to attempt to recreate it a little in my writing," she says.

"I've always felt like these unique rich experiences in one's life are like fuel to one's writing. Good or bad, I'm thankful for every single weird, crazy, incredible and tragic thing that has happened to me."

The Arches Of Gerrard Street

By Grace Chia
Fiction/ Penguin Random House South-east Asia/ Paperback/ 254 pages/ $23.43/ Available here

Ms Grace Chia spent six years in London in the 2000s and began writing the novel 17 years ago. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF GRACE CHIA, PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE SOUTH-EAST ASIA

A young Malaysian man is gunned down in a crowded Gerrard Street bar in London's Chinatown.

Nobody seems to care - not the police, not the residents of Chinatown - except Molly, the victim's childhood friend and ditched lover. His grieving parents have tasked her to travel from small-town Batu Pahat to England to solve his murder.

This is the second novel for Chia (right), who has also published three poetry collections.

She spent six years in London in the 2000s and began writing this novel 17 years ago, inspired by real-life reports about Chinese immigrants in Britain, such as the 2003 shooting of a moneylender in Gerrard Street and the 23 illegal immigrants who drowned in 2004 while picking cockles in Morecambe Bay.


By Ning Cai
Young adult/ Epigram Books/ Paperback/ 225 pages/$18.08/ Available here

Ms Ning Cai is a magician-turned-novelist. PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO, EPIGRAM BOOKS

Six months ago, Maxine Schooling, 18, woke up from a three-year coma to find her parents and brother murdered and the killer still on the loose.

The parkour champion with a photographic memory gets roped into investigating a new series of murders. The victims seem unrelated, ranging from an influencer to a Singapore Idol winner, but they are all being targeted by a hooded killer who behaves like a vampire.

Three years after the best-selling Misdirection (2018), magician-turned-novelist Ning Cai returns with the next instalment in her Savant trilogy. The final novel, Metamorphosis, will be out in November.

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