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Crime and Mystery Novels for the Armchair Traveller

Updated on June 12, 2015

It struck me while frequenting my local library that there seems to be an increasing number of mainstream crime and mystery novels set in "exotic" locales, enticing readers with their insights into the denizens of today's major cities. These are not great literature by any means, but just plain fun reads spiced with unfamiliar flavours.

Discovering these writings rekindled my interest in crime and mystery novels, a happy happenstance since TV fixtures like CSI, Criminal Mind, Monk, etc. seem to be losing their spark after a few seasons.

This hub takes you through a few of the series and books I enjoyed reading this past year. If you do check them out, please come back and let me know your own reactions. Or, if you know any other good crime/mystery series, do share them with me.

CHINA through Qiu Xiaolong's Inspector Chen mysteries

The poet-policeman Chief Inspector Chen is the linchpin of this mystery series by Qiu Xiaolong.

With its chequered recent history, China has the potential to provide much material for a writer; and I find that Qiu proves adept at exploiting the political and economic ripples to add depth to his plots.

These novels often give glimpses into the lives of ordinary Shanghainese as they strive to survive in economically resurgent China. But it is perhaps the machinations of the rich and powerful, their corrupt ways, and the decadence of their lifestyle, which are most interesting in the Inspector Chen novels.

JAPAN through Sujata Massey's Rei Shimura mysteries

The best thing about the Rei Shimura series is that the books are pure escapist fun.

The stories move along at a clipping pace, powered along of course by its Japanese-American heroine, the very likeable and relatable Rei Shimura. Don't expect sophisticated plots from this series. The magic of the Rei Shimura novels lies in the characters. Whether their attitudes are contemporary or traditional, we recognise and can relate to their dilemmas.

I was also drawn to the details of contemporary Japanese lifestyle, culture and food sprinkled liberally in novels in this series.

TURKEY through Barbara Nadel's Inspector Ikmen mysteries

Exotic and darkly dynamic, that's how I'd describe the Inspector Ikmen series by Barbara Nadel. The novels are populated by men and women who span the spectrum of contemporary Istanbul society, from those descended from the powerful Ottomans, to Jewish and other more recent immigrants. These denizens and their urban habitat provide the backdrop to Nadel's intriguing brew of dark secrets and unexposed madness.

If I have one criticism, it would that parts of Nadel's novels read like a travelogue, which can be a bit of distraction. But then there are so many nuances to Turkish society that I can understand why she feels compelled to provide so much background.

SINGAPORE through Nury Vitacchi's Feng Shui Master Wong stories

This book of short stories is set Singapore, where I live now, which is what made me pick it up in the first place. But what got me hooked: the main character, a feng shui master. It certainly makes for a nice change of pace to have someone use feng shui principles to solve the cases he comes across.The stories are funny (in a slapstick kind of way). The characters, although stereotypical, ring broadly true.


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