I only came across Ovida Yu come months ago in a response to a comment on YouTube and her works immediately piqued my interest since the comment mentioned that she wrote mysteries set in Singapore. Other than Crazy Rich Asians, perhaps, I don’t recall reading any other book set there. Looking her up further and the series she has written, I also came across this one which I thought would be great to start with since it is relatively short (207 pages) and a standalone but still ticks the boxes of being set in Singapore and as a bonus is also a historical mystery being set in the 1970s. And I’m really glad that I picked this up because it turned out to be really delightful!
In the story we meet Savitri (or Savi) Moorthy who is born to parents who have both had careers linked with music. She herself has been a performer but much to her parents’ horror, she doesn’t not want a career in music but would rather be a school teacher. Her morning routine not being very suited to her family’s (she has to be in school by 7.15) she moves out and shares a flat with her friend Constance Chay, a producer of TV shows. And her old college-mate and friend Maj. Antony Tan who admires her (and regularly proposes), happens to be a medical examiner.
In Singapore meanwhile, a killer known as the “strangler” is on the loose, who targets young and successful career women (and cuts off their hands) but Miss Moorthy is not particularly bothered by this until her colleague Evelyn Ngui is murdered. And this seems to be the work of the Strangler. Even though Evelyn was not much of a friend of Miss Moorthy’s, she was previously seeing David, a friend of Anthony’s, so she does have a personal connection. Then the Strangler breaks into Miss Moorthy’s flat putting both her and Connie in danger. So of course Miss Moorthy decides to investigate. But investigating the case and Evelyn Ngui’s possible connection with it ends up also placing Miss Moorthy in her fair share of danger (of course she has Antony and Connie by her side for the most part). But does she manage to solve it?
This was a really enjoyable read; I especially loved how the author managed to write a murder mystery with all its actual dangers, even an encounter with a murderer (which however, seemed almost funny rather than serious) and still keep the general tone and writing full of humour. The characters are also a great deal of fun—Miss Moorthy, her parents (though we don’t actually meet them), Connie with the latest TV dramas that she’s producing and even the more serious Antony. Like Miss Marple, to whom many reviewers have compared Miss Moorthy, the latter too has insight into people, and this makes her observations on them rather fun to read. Evelyn Ngui whose murder it is that Miss Moorthy is trying to solve had a fairly complicated life with more than one love interest—and so Miss Moorthy certainly has her hands full trying to understand the colleague she didn’t know very well. She soon enough figures out Evelyn’s murderer was most likely a copycat and so there are a range of suspects to pick from. And of course, in the tradition of murder mysteries, there is a second death as well. I did not really guess whodunit or why in this one so I enjoyed the mystery element too.
And of course I loved the setting in Singapore—places are referenced, also the different cultures that comprise it—Malay, Chinese, Indian— come through and there’s also food (plenty actually) like Madam Wee’s lavish meal or even snacks. There are also period details from HDB (Housing Development Board) flats to American TV shows that were popular like Hawaii Five O and Mannix. But my favourite part was the writing itself—humorous and pleasantwhich made the book a really lovely read. I wish there were more mysteries with these characters; and I would certainly like to explore the other series by the author, especially the one set in 1930s Singapore!
p.s. I didn’t much like the cover of this one though it does represent the story well.
Have you read this one or any others by the author? How did you find it/them? Looking forward to your thoughts!
Cover image: Goodreads