The Betel Nut Tree Mystery (Crown Colony)

Written by Ovidia Yu
Review by Ann Northfield

Chen Su Lin is a secretarial assistant to Chief Inspector LeFroy in this 1930s murder mystery set in Singapore. She is drawn into a dangerous situation when she offers to look after and chaperone a beautiful widowed young woman, Nicole Covington, whose fiancé has been discovered dead, covered with betel juice.

Nicole becomes more of a suspect as more is revealed about her dead lover and dead husband. She seems to cause death and destruction wherever she goes. The story is deepened by the racial, class, colonialism, and imperialism elements, which also serve to complicate the relationships between the different characters.

Singapore is both a melting pot and a hierarchy: “Beneath an upper crust of white colonial administrators, the rest of us were muddled together like a savoury stew under mashed potatoes.” This is the second book in the series, the first one being The Frangipani Tree Mystery. The writing and sense of time and place draw the reader into the story, and the characters are well drawn, interesting, and unusual, especially the main character. There is more to Chen Su Lin than meets the eye. Recommended for fans of cosy crime who fancy spreading out into a more exotic location than an English country house.