Singaporean writer Ovidia Yu's historical murder mysteries headed for TV

The Frangipani Tree Mystery is the first book of Ovidia Yu's historical murder mysteries.
The Frangipani Tree Mystery is the first book of Ovidia Yu's historical murder mysteries.PHOTOS: WESLEY LOH, CONSTABLE

SINGAPORE - Singaporean writer Ovidia Yu's historical murder mysteries may be headed for the small screen.

Her whodunnit series, featuring a plucky teenage Peranakan detective in 1930s and 1940s Singapore, has been optioned for television by international production company Poisson Rouge Pictures.

Producer Christopher Granier-Deferre said the bright orange cover of The Betel Nut Tree Mystery (2018) caught his eye in a bookshop while he was filming in Stockholm. Realising it was the second book in a series, he asked his wife to send him the first, The Frangipani Tree Mystery (2017).

"I read it immediately and knew it was everything I had been looking for," he said.

"Crucially, the stories told through the eyes of young Su Lin brought to life a voice we don't hear often enough, that of those being ruled. Ovidia had created a wonderfully complex, original and engaging character, to guide us gently but persuasively and without ever dipping into caricature, through a reframing of the colonial and occupied eras."

In The Frangipani Tree Mystery, Yu's heroine Chen Su Lin is a 16-year-old orphan who is considered bad luck by her family because of her polio and is trying to avoid being married off by her relatives.

She takes a housekeeping job with police chief inspector Thomas Le Froy, but soon begins to assist him in solving crimes, from the suspicious death of an Irish nanny at the British governor's mansion to the murder of a wealthy British rake in a grand hotel.

The tentative plan is to cover the first six books in the series across two seasons. Granier-Deferre said that while the project is still in the development stage, he hopes to bring it to screen around 2023.

Yu, 60, said she was "thrilled, ecstatic, grateful and incredulous". She will not be writing the script as she has no television writing experience, but hopes to remain involved in the process.

Granier-Deferre said he has been meeting Singaporean writers based in London, the United States and Singapore to find a script writer, and hopes to film in Singapore and Malaysia.

He is based in Britain and his credits include the films Personal Shopper (2016) and County Lines (2019).

Yu is working on the sixth book, The Mushroom Tree Mystery, which will continue to follow Su Lin's life in Japanese-occupied Singapore during World War II.

The next three books in the series are likely to take place during the Malayan Emergency of 1948 to 1960, she added.

Asked about her dream cast, the veteran playwright said she hopes they will cast Singapore actors in the lead roles. She would like actor Shrey Bhargava to play Sergeant Prakesh Pillay, one of Su Lin's police colleagues.

"I hope they keep the humour of Su Lin's wry, practical but always hopeful and food-centred approach to handling life, murder, the British and the Japanese," she added. "It seems a very typical Singaporean approach to me."