by Ovidia Yu
Series: Crown Colony Mystery #2
Publication Date: June 12, 2018
What we came to think of as the betel nut affair began in the middle of a tropical thunderstorm in December 1937 . . .
Singapore is agog with the news of King Edward VIII's abdication to marry American heiress Wallis Simpson. Chen Su Lin, now Chief Inspector Le Froy's secretarial assistant in Singapore's newly formed detective unit, still dreams of becoming a journalist and hopes to cover the story when the Hon Victor Glossop announces he is marrying an American widow of his own, Mrs Nicole Covington, in the Colony. But things go horribly wrong when Victor Glossop is found dead, his body covered in bizarre symbols and soaked in betel nut juice.
The beautiful, highly-strung Nicole claims it's her fault he's dead . . . just like the others. And when investigations into her past reveal a dead lover, as well as a husband, the case against her appears to be stacking up. Begrudgingly on Le Froy's part, Su Lin agrees to chaperon Nicole at the Farquhar Hotel, intending to get the truth out of her somehow. But as she uncovers secrets and further deaths occur, Su Lin realises she may not be able to save Nicole's life - or even her own.
I’m not sure what to say about this book; it both is and isn’t the type of mystery I normally read. The plotting and setting is totally in my wheelhouse, but I don’t really connect with the characters, and it’s always easier to really get into books where you connect with the characters. The secondary characters are, for me, the most lively and fleshed out of the lot, and I enjoyed their short time on the pages.
The setting of pre-WWII Singapore is a rich setting about which I know nothing, so I find that part of the reading compellingly interesting. Yu does a spectacular job bringing the monsoon season to life, as well as the city itself.
There are two reveals in the plot of The Betel Nut Tree Mystery, and unfortunately, both were transparent. I knew the identity of the columnist after the first few chapters, and I guessed who the murderer was soon thereafter. This unfortunate transparency wasn’t enough to stop me reading the book, obviously, but it did ding my rating.
In spite of this post making it sound like I only found the book to be ‘meh’, I’m looking forward to reading the next book; even if the mysteries themselves aren’t perfect, their setting and time are, and I want to see what happens next.
I read this book off my TBR as part of Halloween Bingo 2020, for the International Women of Mystery square.