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Ripping through Bali's peace

Last updated: 10 April, 2010
Tarun Cherian 16:49 IST

inspector singh investigates: a bali conspiracy most foul Shamini Flint Hachette, 2009, pp 294, Rs 295

Just months ago, I’d reviewed Inspector Singh Investigates, set in Malaysia. And so when this one, Inspector Singh Investigates in Bali landed up, I snorted, “God how predictable.Is he a cop or travel agent?” Mentally, I continued to fulminate, “Jeez, the author Shamini Flint really has it made. Go on a holiday and milk it for a yarn.” So the truth is I started the book in a sarcastic frame of mind, ready to hop on top of Inspector Singh and wallop him with a blunt instrument. Two or three engrossing hours later with Inspector Singh in Bali, and he had won me over again.

The case he’s dumped into is a no-hoper. In fact, fairly pointless. A terrorist blast has ripped through Bali’s peace. Close to a hundred are ripped apart. In that gore, an unimportant puzzle presents itself. One of the many dead didn’t die in the blast. Aha murder! Which is dumped on Inspector Singh, who is deputed from Singapore to help Bali’s cops, but is a big zero when dealing with terrorism. He’s saddled with an Australian cop even more cloddish in the niceties of ‘How to butter your bosses and make friends’.

The Bali mystery is taut, with numerous twists, oodles of suspects and a sting in its tail. It has the Bali cockfighting underground, debauched Western drifters, Islamic immigrants, wife beaters, husband cheaters... and what have you. Now while Inspector Singh
investigates in Bali, Flint also investigates Bali. She probes, the underlying causes that lead to such hurt national pride or rabid religious rage that terrorism is the inevitable fruit. She gives us a feel of Bali, of life underlying: the undertones of gambling and casual adultery, the deeper hot mix of a ‘Hindu nation’, surrounded by Muslim countries, bending over before Western tourists.

Flint points to the fact that Western liberalism inflicts cultural and social violence. Where does freedom end and libertinism begin? But she also looks at the counterargument — that the iron cage of orthodoxy is crippling.

Inspector Singh who was more restrained in Malaysia pulls off his kid gloves in Bali. He’s harder, he’s dealing with murder after all. The humanity is further accentuated by the deep links between him and his Australian colleague. The Inspector Singh series focuses on old-fashioned murder mysteries in a modern multi-cultural world. For those fed on a diet of FBI agents, CIA spooks, Ludlumesque assasins, Kill Bill 3 Fighters and XXX agents, Inspector Singh is almost archaic. And yet that is its charm. It’s old fashioned. It’s very anglo-saxon middle class in its virtues. But like its outwardly great bumbling detective, ‘hey it got heart’.

One of the worst things terrorism does is that it negates the value of human life. The terrorists and those who pursue them, do so equally. By using the device of a murder among the shambles of a terrorist bomb one is forced to get personal. To see the one who died as human. To seek in the killer’s eyes motives... true motives. And that makes both human. And both worthy of redemption.

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