Friday, 19 July 2019

The Paper Bark Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu


The Paper Bark Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu
Published by Constable on the 27th June 2019.

2019 New Release Challenge read, one of my 2019 COYER Summer Hunt reads, and featured in WorldReads: Singapore

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Su Lin is doing her dream job: assistant at Singapore's brand new detective agency. Until Bald Bernie decides a 'local girl' can't be trusted with private investigations, and replaces her with a new secretary - pretty, privileged, and white. So Su Lin's not the only person finding it hard to mourn Bernie after he's found dead in the filing room. And when her best friend's dad is accused, she gets up to some sleuthing work of her own in a bid to clear his name.

Su Lin finds out that Bernie may have been working undercover, trading stolen diamonds for explosives from enemy troops. Was he really the upright English citizen he claimed to be?

Meanwhile, a famous assassin commits his worst crime yet, and disappears into thin air. Rumours spread that he may be dangerously close to home.

Beneath the stifling, cloudless Singaporean summer, earthquakes of chaos and political unrest are breaking out. When a tragic loss shakes Su Lin's personal world to its core, she becomes determined to find the truth. But in dark, hate-filled times, truth has a price - and Su Lin must decide how much she's willing to pay for it. 

The Paper Bark Tree Mystery is the third of Ovidia Yu's Crown Colony crime detection series set in the then British colony of Singapore during the period between the two world wars. I, of course, hadn't previously read the first two books and as a result I think I missed out on character development that had gone before. That said, I really liked Su Lin and appreciated the way in which readers see 1930s Singapore through her eyes. A polio survivor, she does struggle to walk or stand for longer periods of time and this disability means her talents are often overlooked by those around her. Su Lin is also overlooked by members of the colonial administration because of her native Singapore nationality. Yu explores Singapore's racial divides, making interesting points through Su Lin's observations. The island seems to be a melting pot of peoples from all across Asia, with the white Brits presuming to stand above everybody else.

The criminal mystery at the heart of this story unravels in quite a convoluted way with lots of potential suspects. Unfortunately it didn't always keep my attention which was a shame as this novel, in theory at least, should have strongly appealed to me. It's nicely detailed historical fiction which allowed me to learn about the time and place in which it is set. Occasional mentions of the potential for an imminent Second World War add a tense layer of foreboding - especially as my recent reading of How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee meant I was all too painfully aware of what will soon happen. Perhaps I should give the first Crown Colony book a try and work my way back to this one in order to fully appreciate it. The central narrative does satisfactorily stand alone, but I think I would benefit from a deeper understanding of the characters surrounding Su Lin, and I would happily read more of Ovidia Yu's writing so this would be a good excuse!


Etsy Find!
by Pixie Nut And Co in
Nimbin, Australia

Click pic to visit Etsy Shop


Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Ovidia Yu / Crime fiction / Books from Singapore

10 comments:

  1. Out of topic but I want to ask about Etsy. Is it your own shop?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, I don't have an Etsy shop any more. The'Etsy Finds' are items I've spotted while browsing the site which are connected to the particular book I've reviewed. Lorikeets feature prominently in The Paper Bark Tree Mystery and I loved this little earrings made in Australia :-)

      Delete
  2. Nothing worst than reading a suspense novel and not having the ability to hold your attention. That's just too bad.

    Great review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure why this one didn't grip me so much. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood?

      Delete
  3. The cover is great and this sounds like it would be pretty good even if it didn't always keep your attention. Thanks for the great review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm hoping trying the earlier books will help

      Delete
  4. hmmmm I'm going to tell my writing partner about this series! I love Asian characters and it sounds neat to me. She can almost always tell who did it from the characters so I'm intrigued that you struggled to care. I know she's said in the past that Asian mysteries read differently from others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've got into other Asian mystery series and this one has all the attributes I love so I'm not sure why it wasn't a wow. The Papwr Bark Tree mystery was still entertaining enough that I would seek out more though - I sound more down on it than perhaps does it justice!

      Delete
  5. Mysteries are definitely favorites of mine. I think this sounds like one I'd enjoy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd be interested to know what you think if you do get to read it

      Delete