Harriet Gordon, who is in Singapore to start her life over, has just started a job helping an old man type up his memoirs when she finds him dead, messily murdered in his haunted bungalow at the beginning of A.M. Stuart’s transporting mystery debut, Singapore Sapphire. Unlike a lot of mysteries in which ordinary people blunder their way into a criminal investigation, Harriet has a partner, Detective Robert Curran, who seems willing to listen to her and never tries to talk her into not doing things. Even though there are the requisite moments of casual sexism and colonial chauvinism, Robert and Harriet have a very enlightened outlook for 1910.
At the outset of the novel, Sir Oswald’s worst sin seems to be boring others by talking about his one expedition to a mountain in northern Burma (now Myanmar) that was sitting on top of ton of rubies and sapphires. Who would have brutally stabbed the old man and his servant to death? Robert is immediately on the case, armed with the new techniques of crime scene photography and fingerprinting. Meanwhile, both Harriet and Robert dig into Oswald’s past to look for a real motive. Before long, people start disappearing and threats appear, pushing Harriet and Robert into harrowing situations.
While the mystery plot of Singapore Sapphire is engaging, realistic, and interesting, I was almost more interested in learning more about Harriet, Robert, and pre-World War I Singapore. I could feel the heat and humidity as I read the book. (There are a lot of references to sweaty Europeans.) And I wish that I could be friends with Harriet and Robert. I loved watching their friendship develop and there are just so many interesting details about them: Harriet’s past as an incarcerated suffragist and Robert’s love with a local woman of Chinese descent. I am really looking forward to their next adventures.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.