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The Frangipani Tree Mystery
Crown Colony Series – Book I
Ovidia Yu

Constable (Little, Brown)
1 June 2017/ ISBN 9781472125200

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde 


It’s 1936 in Singapore and young Chen SuLin dreams of being a modern, independent woman with a job. Her uncle is keen to marry her off despite the urging of her mission school teacher as to her talents, so when the chance of being a nanny for the acting governor’s retarded daughter arises, she eagerly steps in. Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy might not think much of women, but having this unusual one in the household is going to be useful. For the last nanny needs replacing because she has just been found dead under the frangipani tree…

I am always on the lookout for books set in unusual settings or periods, and this is the first set in 1930s Singapore I have come across. It is particularly interesting for me, as this is where my father was born so I came to it with some knowledge and was impressed with the author’s recreation of the time and place. The rocky relationship between island people and incomers of various races is well described and is an integral part of the story. SuLin is a sensible, forthright young woman who has long been regarded as bad luck due to having a limp from polio and having lost her parents. Her family is an influential and wealthy one with fingers in many pies, and she has as role models both her mission school teacher (who is the acting governor’s sister) and her formidable grandmother. Once inserted into the Palin household she gets to see things from the “governess” viewpoint as not one of the family but above the servants, a help to her detecting This latter feature is something the book could do with more of. Much time is taken with the relationships between the unhappy Palins, looking after Dee Dee and the well observed setting; more could be taken with sleuthing. As a historical novel it works well, as a mystery less so, but I imagine this will be rectified in any further books in the series. Recommended for anybody wanting to immerse themselves in 1930s Singapore.

Reviewed 2017