by Ovidia Yu
Series: Crown Colony Mystery #6
Publication Date: June 21, 2022
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
The Allies have defeated Germany in Europe, but Japan refuses to surrender the East.
In Singapore, amid rumours the Japanese occupiers are preparing to wipe out the population of the island rather than surrender, a young aide is found murdered beneath the termite mushroom tree in Hideki Tagawa's garden and his plans for a massive poison gas bomb are missing. To prevent any more destruction it falls to Su Lin to track down the real killer with the help of Hideki Tagawa's old nemesis, the charismatic shinto priest Yoshio Yoshimo.
In so many ways, this series represents the best kind of historical, cozy mystery, although a few of the 6 published so far have been average. The Mushroom Tree Mystery is not one of the average ones. I’d rank it as one of the best, perhaps because it’s set in a time, and in the face of events that were my area of study at university, and I couldn’t put it down.
The writing style takes some getting used to, though if you asked me why, I’d have a hard time putting my finger on it. The narrative flows, but doesn’t; it can be choppy, or staccato, but after a few pages (or chapters) it begins to feel more natural.
It’s the tail end of WW2 and Singapore is caught between the Allies and a dying Japanese empire that would rather die than be defeated. As if that wasn’t enough, the people of Singapore are also caught up in the internecine warfare of the Japanese; the old-school ronin and those that felt honor didn’t imply death. In the midst of all this, Su Lin is further caught up in a murder mystery, where as a crippled straits born it would be all too easy to find herself convicted and executed.
I found this entry particularly fascinating, not only for the mystery itself, but for the perspective of someone born in Singapore, with ancestors who went through the war on the island and shared their first-hand experience with her. I was deeply moved by the image of a people that welcomed Allied bombing of their island because it brought hope of salvation along with destruction. To be cut off so completely from the world that a bombing was the only way of knowing that the war wasn’t truly over, as the Japanese asserted. I was also chilled to read in the author’s notes about how close Singapore came to being wiped off the map entirely by the Japanese warlords.
Overall, a very good mystery read.