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Friday 27 October 2023

‘The Yellow Rambutan Tree Mystery’ by Ovidia Yu.

Published by Constable,
8 June 2023.
ISBN:  978-1-40871-698 -4 (PB)

It is February 1946 and Singapore is adjusting to the return of British rule.  People are celebrating the first Chinese New Year since the end of Japanese occupation and visitors are allowed for the first time in two years.  But it is the Third Day of the New Year (the Year of the Fire Dog) and callers are not expected - rather, it is a time to visit ancestral graves, to tidy them, and to avoid stirring up bad luck.

All is not well at Chen Mansion, where the occupants are recovering from what might have been food poisoning.  So, when a very persistent caller arrives, Chen Su Lin (grand-daughter of the elder Chens, Uncle Chen and Ah Mah) has to leave her sick bed to deal with him.  It is Botak Beng, a business ‘colleague’ of Uncle Chen, who had, in the past, managed Uncle Chen’s sea transport needs (which might have included some smuggling).  Since the end of the war Botak had moved into other more dubious areas, areas in which Uncle Chen was not interested.  Su Lin refuses to let him in and, taking advantage when he is distracted by another acquaintance, she closes the door.  But that is not the last she sees of him.  She goes out later and finds a crowd staring into the storm drain.  She goes to look and is shocked to see Botak’s body and to hear someone shouting that she is the murderer.

The police make life uncomfortable for Su Lin, who had once worked for the Detective Unit of the local police force.  Her former colleagues had been transferred, so she has no contacts, but, her previous boss, DCI Le Froy, has returned.  He is no longer a policeman but is interested in the investigation and is there to help when the situation becomes threatening.

Su Lin narrates the story of her efforts to solve the murder, and how she copes as investigations reveal information about her family and their businesses, about other local residents, and about the new acting governor and his family.  As the layers are peeled from the past, mysteries are solved, the murderer is revealed and Su Lin re-assesses her relationship with Le Froy.

This is the seventh in the series of Tree Mysteries.  It is full of interesting and fascinating information about the lives of the inhabitants, their traditions and beliefs, and about the Rambutan tree of the title.  The characters are well-described, the story holds the interest and Su Lin is a very likeable heroine.  It does work as a stand-alone, but readers may feel that the story of Su Lin, her family and friends, which begins in 1936, is worth reading from the beginning.
Reviewer: Jo Hesslewood
Other books in this series:  The Frangipani Tree Mystery, The Betel Nut Tree Mystery, The Paper Bark Tree Mystery, The Mimosa Tree Mystery, The Cannonball Tree Mystery; The Mushroom Tree Mystery

Ovidia Yu was born in, lives in and writes about Singapore.  She spent her schooldays in the science stream and it was only after she found herself in medical school that she became aware she didn’t want to spend her life as a doctor.It was after dropping out of college that Ovidia entered her first writing competition. Her short story A Dream Of China won first prize in the Asiaweek short story competition that year. Although she had been writing her own stories almost as long as she had been reading, it was only then that she dared to think about becoming a writer. Winning the competition meant a lot because until then, the only people who had read her stories were friends and family. As she said, “they might have been saying they liked my writing because they were being nice to me.”  Ovidia loved reading as far back as she can remember. In addition to short stories, she has also written plays, novels and a children’s book, The Mudskipper. But now Ovidia is focusing on trying to figure out how to write the kind of books that made her fall in love with reading in the first place—traditional mysteries. Ovidia is a member of several writing and reading groups and tries to keep some balance in her life by writing morning pages.

Jo Hesslewood.  Crime fiction has been my favourite reading material since as a teenager I first spotted Agatha Christie on the library bookshelves.  For twenty-five years the commute to and from London provided plenty of reading time.  I am fortunate to live in Cambridge, where my local crime fiction book club, Crimecrackers, meets at Heffers Bookshop .  I enjoy attending crime fiction events and currently organise events for the Margery Allingham Society.

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