A Straits Settlement by Brian Stoddart
Published by Crime Wave Press in May 2016.
One of my WorldReads from New Zealand
Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Abebooks
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How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
'In the third installment of the Le Fanu Mystery series, the intrepid superintendent is promoted to Inspector-General of Police in 1920s Madras, which proves to be more boring than he had envisaged. Instead of pushing papers across his desk, the Le Fanu focuses on the disappearance of a senior Indian Civil Service officer and an apparently unrelated murder. As the two incidents intertwine, the world weary detective is drawn into the worlds of indentured labor recruitment and antiquities theft.. But as bureaucratic politics make his position vulnerable, his superiors send the intrepid policeman across the Bay of Bengal to pursue the cases in the Straits Settlements. Le Fanu immediately becomes embroiled in the activities of secret societies and the British colonial intelligence services. The appearance of a mysterious Chinese woman renders his professional life uncertain as he wonders anew about the British imperial future.'
My initial concern about reading A Straits Settlement was jumping into Stoddart's Superintendent Le Fanu series at its third volume. I wondered whether I would already have missed out on too much of the background information, but this turned out not to be a problem. There are nods to the two previous novels, but enough back story is reiterated to make reading A Straits Settlement satisfying and the hints to other stories are enticing. The mystery unfolds in 1920s India and Malaysia so I found myself in the same world as The Roar Of The Tiger by Annie Ayre, albeit a few years earlier. Stoddart shows the rigid class and race barriers and the ridiculously stilted British Raj etiquette to great effect especially in how these attitudes influenced the choices of which men should be offered powerful jobs. When reading this era of historical fiction, I often find myself amazed the the British Empire existed at all, let alone how we ruled so many nations for so long!
Superintendent Le Fanu is very much on the edge of polite society thereby enabling us as readers to look in. His 'scandalous' choices of girlfriends reveals his character, but I liked that he is in no way a lothario. Unravelling murders might be his forte, but personal relationships certainly are not! Stoddart has created an interesting and diverse cast of supporting characters. I did sometimes get confused by exactly who was who among the lesser roles, but I liked Watson and Habi. A Straits Settlement is an intricate yet cosy mystery. Stoddart keeps a good pace, but this book is one for readers who enjoy studying clues, not for breathless thriller fans. It's certainly worth taking time over and I would recommend stocking up on a few Le Fanu mysteries now that the evenings are beginning to draw in.
Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Brian Stoddart / Crime and mystery / Books from New Zealand