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Monday, 14 August 2017

‘The Frangipani Tree Mystery’ by Ovidia Yu



Published by Constable,
1 June 2017.  
ISBN: 978-1-4721-2520-0

This story is set in the British colony of Singapore in 1936 where the Acting Governor’s household suffers a bereavement.  The Irish nanny, Charity, who has been looking after the governor’s daughter dies mysteriously by falling from her balcony.   She is replaced by SuLin who has been educated at the Mission school and who wants to escape from the looming possibility of being married off by her family.  She is from a Chinese family of some wealth and is under her grandmother’s control. She speaks Malay and Hokkien as well as fluent English. 

Dee-Dee, the daughter of the Governor, had, had a serious illness at the age of 7 and her mental development has halted at that point though she had grown older and much bigger.  SuLin becomes her carer and finds herself trying to make sense of Charity’s death and another in the household that follows.  The Chief Inspector of the Criminal Intelligence Department, Thomas Le Froy, is very concerned about the deaths too.    As SuLin becomes part of the Palin household she develops different relationships with the various household members.

Eventually SuLin’s search for answers puts her in some danger but she survives to fight another day!  This is a fascinating book in its lovely detailing of the attitudes of the people in Singapore in the 1930s, from Governor’s lady to Chinese cook and Malay gardener.

I enjoyed reading this very much and hope that the promise of a further story about SuLin is fulfilled.
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Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer 
Ovidia Yu has written a number of previous contemporary mysteries also set in Singapore.

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.


Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.




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