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The Frangipani Tree Mystery

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First in a delightfully charming crime series set in 1930s Singapore, introducing amateur sleuth SuLin, a local girl stepping in as governess for the Acting Governor of Singapore. 1936 in the Crown Colony of Singapore, and the British abdication crisis and rising Japanese threat seem very far away. When the Irish nanny looking after Acting Governor Palin's daughter dies First in a delightfully charming crime series set in 1930s Singapore, introducing amateur sleuth SuLin, a local girl stepping in as governess for the Acting Governor of Singapore. 1936 in the Crown Colony of Singapore, and the British abdication crisis and rising Japanese threat seem very far away. When the Irish nanny looking after Acting Governor Palin's daughter dies suddenly - and in mysterious circumstances - mission school-educated local girl SuLin - an aspiring journalist trying to escape an arranged marriage - is invited to take her place. But then another murder at the residence occurs and it seems very likely that a killer is stalking the corridors of Government House. It now takes all SuLin's traditional skills and intelligence to help British-born Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy solve the murders - and escape with her own life.


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First in a delightfully charming crime series set in 1930s Singapore, introducing amateur sleuth SuLin, a local girl stepping in as governess for the Acting Governor of Singapore. 1936 in the Crown Colony of Singapore, and the British abdication crisis and rising Japanese threat seem very far away. When the Irish nanny looking after Acting Governor Palin's daughter dies First in a delightfully charming crime series set in 1930s Singapore, introducing amateur sleuth SuLin, a local girl stepping in as governess for the Acting Governor of Singapore. 1936 in the Crown Colony of Singapore, and the British abdication crisis and rising Japanese threat seem very far away. When the Irish nanny looking after Acting Governor Palin's daughter dies suddenly - and in mysterious circumstances - mission school-educated local girl SuLin - an aspiring journalist trying to escape an arranged marriage - is invited to take her place. But then another murder at the residence occurs and it seems very likely that a killer is stalking the corridors of Government House. It now takes all SuLin's traditional skills and intelligence to help British-born Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy solve the murders - and escape with her own life.

30 review for The Frangipani Tree Mystery

  1. 5 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    It's a good day indeed when a new mystery series with its attendant cast of followable characters and its quiet upholding of justice and fairness with or without the law arrives on my bookshelf. The library brought me this fun first-in-series read, and I was delightedly transported to 1930s Colonial Singapore. Chen Su Lin, the polio-crippled granddaughter of one of the island's major money lenders, has been educated far, far beyond the norm for her age and ethnicity. Chinese women haven't been e It's a good day indeed when a new mystery series with its attendant cast of followable characters and its quiet upholding of justice and fairness with or without the law arrives on my bookshelf. The library brought me this fun first-in-series read, and I was delightedly transported to 1930s Colonial Singapore. Chen Su Lin, the polio-crippled granddaughter of one of the island's major money lenders, has been educated far, far beyond the norm for her age and ethnicity. Chinese women haven't been educated in great numbers until the last half-century or so. Su Lin, however, has no prospects for the usual fates allotted to her comadres: the limp and the "bad luck" presented by her polio render her undesirable as a match, either in marriage or in prostitution; her grandmother, being a practical soul, used Su Lin's brains to her advantage by schooling her in languages so she could assist with the family's shady dealings by interpreting for the business. Su Lin, tasting the merest hint of freedom, develops other ideas while enrolled in the local Mission School: She'll become a teacher, or a secretary, or an accountant! Only on her own, not for her family. The long arm of Fate reaches out, plucks the girl from her cozy dreams, and plunks her in the middle of an unhappy household of ang mohs (white folks) with shedloads of secrets and lies to protect. A much more experienced and adult (Su Lin is sixteen when we meet her) woman would've spent a few hours in that ménage and lit out for the territories. Toxic Miss Nessa the missionary lady rules her brother's house; useless Lady Palin, recently acquired second wife of bluff ol' Colonel Blimp-esque Sir Harry, acquiesces to this arrangement gracelessly and with great umbrage at her displacement from both England and primacy; daughter of the house Dee-Dee, the fever victim who is a seven-year-old in a teenager's body; young Harry, snarky sneaky ne'er-do-well, and to Su Lin's eyes likely the lover of a murdered nanny/companion to Dee-Dee called Charity...who appeared to have none, charging handsomely for, well, it's not spelled out but really does one need to have it be so? Then we have the local servants, the loyal family retainer-cum-cook whose existence is mandatory in one form or another for any domestic mystery set in that time, and Inspector Thomas Le Froy, Colonial policeman with shocking cultural sensitivity, sangfroid in the face of gigantic threats to him and his position, and stubborn absence of interest in marrying, or even taking a housekeeper, while he is busy solving crimes. A simple and effective smoke-screen for...what? Why does he need to be aggressively single and pointedly resistant to Miss Nessa's machinations to plant a woman of her choosing in his household? Permaybehaps to avoid having it resemble her own? This seething cauldron of awfulness leads to murder, alleged suicide, and a truly overblown reveal. I won't go into details, but this book would have a higher rating if it had presented its (pretty obvious and inevitably violent) conclusion bedizened with fewer Shiny-Brite ornaments on its thinnest branches. Author Yu is not a tyro. This is the first in a series, but it's not her first series. I'd be impressed with her restraint if it had been a first-ever mystery. It not being such, I found Su Lin's early avowal of respect for her uncle not selling her into slavery of one sort or another due to his wife's childlessness that the temple fortunetellers blamed on her somewhat tarnished by the sudden existence of cousins; and Inspector Le Froy's presence, at a few junctures, had to be stuffed into brief and mildly jarring third-person "asides" in the main first-person limited viewpoint of Su Lin. I wasn't entirely happy about a framing device inserted about two-thirds of the way through the book, either. I believe it is a device implicit in almost all first-person limited viewpoint mysteries, or narratives of any sort. But it's not a blot on the escutcheon that the minor inconsistencies felt to me to be. An experienced mystery novelist (Aunty Lee's Delights et alii) could and should know how urgently necessary it is to demonstrate an almost preternatural control over her material. I downgrade more harshly for the experienced versus the inexperienced writer in this regard. But the pleasures of Author Yu's quietly lush and unobtrusively delivered lessons in the sights, sounds, tastes, and mores of Singapore make me err on the side of indulgence, and put aside these odd and unexpected moments so I can savor the delights and pleasures of the series. Su Lin, whose little-girl dreams are only the start of her ambitions, solves the problem at the heart of this book and at the center of her own life with one magnificent sweep of courageous action. No more thinking of herself as a crippled bad-luck symbol for Su Lin! And finally, with Justice served, she can take her appropriate and merited place on the world's stage. Yep. I'll be back for more.

  2. 5 out of 5

    HBalikov

    "I have never seen the point in taking risks, especially physical ones. With my polio limp I was less than agile and I stayed away from rivers with crocodiles and storm drains with rats, and avoided going into town on Saturday nights when it was full of drunken white men." This story is told from the perspective of Su Lin, who has quite a different view of the British (and other Europeans) than they have of themselves. This is a “cozy” mystery that centers around manners and class issues. Yu has "I have never seen the point in taking risks, especially physical ones. With my polio limp I was less than agile and I stayed away from rivers with crocodiles and storm drains with rats, and avoided going into town on Saturday nights when it was full of drunken white men." This story is told from the perspective of Su Lin, who has quite a different view of the British (and other Europeans) than they have of themselves. This is a “cozy” mystery that centers around manners and class issues. Yu has a nice touch with taking us both “upstairs” and “downstairs” in the life of the 1930s Crown Colony. "‘Give this to Su Lin, then.’ He passed it to Dee-Dee without looking at me. He didn’t seem to like me, though I hadn’t done anything to antagonize him beyond existing as an Asian female in his presence." And "Europeans who fished only for sport did not approve of men who fished for food, but hunger overruled colonial authority." The first plot twist has her meeting Singapore’s ace investigator as he is called when the Irish nanny looking after Acting Governor Palin's daughter dies suddenly - and in mysterious circumstances. The second has Su Lin stepping in as the family's governess. Su Lin looks to these circumstances as a way to escape from the expected arranged marriage and she hopes to become “a journalist.” Her grandmother and Uncle Chen are key to her status and continue to exert influence over her. I am sure that this push-pull of expectations will be something explored in successive novels. That objective is not reached during this volume but there is enough of a plot to not make that an issue and it leads us to the next volume in good shape.

  3. 4 out of 5

    mindful.librarian ☀️

    A new favorite mystery series has officially entered my life! I love the (light) mystery genre, and Yu certainly takes it to a new level with the Crown Colony series. The Frangipani Tree Mystery is set in 1930s Singapore, with a young Chinese-Singaporean female protagonist. Su Lin's family is trying to marry her off, and to escape a marriage she ends up as the nanny for the Acting Governor of Singapore. Who is, of course, British. The child she is a nanny for is actually a 17-year-old but due to A new favorite mystery series has officially entered my life! I love the (light) mystery genre, and Yu certainly takes it to a new level with the Crown Colony series. The Frangipani Tree Mystery is set in 1930s Singapore, with a young Chinese-Singaporean female protagonist. Su Lin's family is trying to marry her off, and to escape a marriage she ends up as the nanny for the Acting Governor of Singapore. Who is, of course, British. The child she is a nanny for is actually a 17-year-old but due to an intellectual disability, Dee Dee is described as functioning much like a child a decade younger. I feel that Yu has written this in a sensitive manner, while still maintaining the vernacular of the time and place and culture. The mystery is originally one murder, but of course it develops and becomes more complex. From my perspective, the mystery is actually just a device for Yu to write about colonial Singapore, race, class and gender, and I'm HERE for it. As she states in a great article in the South China Morning Post, "I am not making fun of the issues. I take them seriously. But you don’t have to be ugly to make a serious point. It’s not sugar-coating, it’s lubricating the idea so you can slide it in and say what you want". This article, which labels Yu as a "gay feminist writer" is a wonderful companion piece to the readers new to the author's work. Here is the article I reference: Ovidia Yu, gay feminist author from Singapore, takes a cosy-but-candid approach to addressing the Lion City’s ills This is EXACTLY what I'm looking for in my lighter reads - books that still address societal issues but in a way that blends with an entertaining story. You can have a mystery book that is simply that, a mystery, or you can blend it together with social commentary in such a smart way that readers learn and grow while also feeling enveloped in a comfy read. After finishing this book, I instantly messaged my bookish friend Madeleine who loves historical British mysteries, but also cares about reading more diversely, and told her that I found her PERFECT book! I do hope she likes it, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves historical mysteries and is looking to learn more about colonial Singapore. Because if you aren't familiar, it's a time and place and circumstance that everyone should know about. I have already ordered book two in the series and can't wait to read it! I have also ordered book 1 in her Auntie Lee series.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    This was really fun! The mystery, characters, and setting were delightful. It's so rare to get all three. If you like historical mysteries, this is definitely worth checking out. The story follows Chen Su Lin, who wants to be a lady reporter and travel the world. Unfortunately for her, there are few jobs for young Chinese women in 1930s Singapore, and her wealthy family would rather see her married to a suitable husband. Her patroness at the British mission school tries to secure her a job as a m This was really fun! The mystery, characters, and setting were delightful. It's so rare to get all three. If you like historical mysteries, this is definitely worth checking out. The story follows Chen Su Lin, who wants to be a lady reporter and travel the world. Unfortunately for her, there are few jobs for young Chinese women in 1930s Singapore, and her wealthy family would rather see her married to a suitable husband. Her patroness at the British mission school tries to secure her a job as a maid to a policeman, Thomas Le Froy, but they're interrupted by the news of a murder at the governor's house. Su Lin offers to stay on as a nanny for the governor instead, and helps with the course of the investigation. I really loved Su Lin as a main character and liked her relationship with her family, particularly her grandmother. She has a great narrative voice (believably sassy) and a sharp commentary on the differences between Western and Eastern practices, since she's spent time at the mission school. (Her grandmother wants her to learn English so she can translate radio shows on the BBC for her, which made me laugh.) Su Lin's wealthy background doesn't matter when she works for the governor's family, and there's an interesting exploration of the tension between all the different ethnicities that live in Singapore. The mystery in this is pretty good. I liked the denouement and (view spoiler)[the use of the nicknames was great - it totally surprised me. It was less surprising that Miss Nessa turned out to be crazy because Su Lin spends so much time musing on how much she admires her throughout the novel (hide spoiler)] . What I didn't like as much was the writing. There are a couple places in the book where it switches into third-person from Le Froy's perspective, and one time where it's third-person from Sir Henry's perspective. I don't think that the book needed the third-person shifts and would have been better without them. There's also an element of Su Lin writing the story herself as an older woman that I thought was odd and should have been excised - it only comes up a couple times, and raises the question of omniscience (why isn't she telling us everything she knows about Le Froy later in her life? it's a lot of "oh, but I didn't know then" and back to the story). Besides that, the writing is choppy in some places and it was sometimes hard to tell which of the characters were still in a room for a conversation. But the narrative voice itself is very good and it made me laugh out loud a few times. I'm definitely going to keep reading these. They are less than $5 on Kindle!!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lyn Elliott

    I’d never heard of Ovidia Yu but a friend offered me her copy as a light read during Covid19 self isolation. It was perfect. Despite the two deaths that spark police investigations in Government House, of all places, and numerous sinister bits of background information about local rackets, the tone is light and the heroine, Su Lin, engaging and impressive - she’s clever, naive and kind and eventually gets what she hopes for. Hooray! This is identified as #1 in a series, which will have to be set w I’d never heard of Ovidia Yu but a friend offered me her copy as a light read during Covid19 self isolation. It was perfect. Despite the two deaths that spark police investigations in Government House, of all places, and numerous sinister bits of background information about local rackets, the tone is light and the heroine, Su Lin, engaging and impressive - she’s clever, naive and kind and eventually gets what she hopes for. Hooray! This is identified as #1 in a series, which will have to be set within a short time frame because now it’s 1936, the British are still the colonial power and news of stirrings in Japan is just a hint in the last pages. Yu is a new author for me to look for when I want a light mystery- interesting characters in unfamiliar settings, clever plot manipulation and little overt violence.

  6. 4 out of 5

    John

    Outset disclaimer that I actually listened to its sequel The Betel Nut Tree Mystery first; that one did stand alone well enough, but I'd read this one first for context and backstory. Today, our heroine Su Lin would be courted for her pick of desirable positions, being very bright and able to speak Malay, Chinese and English fluently. However, in 1930's Singapore that wasn't worth a hill of beans: you were white (a huge plus) or not (a huge minus). Su Lin is determined to achieve a professional c Outset disclaimer that I actually listened to its sequel The Betel Nut Tree Mystery first; that one did stand alone well enough, but I'd read this one first for context and backstory. Today, our heroine Su Lin would be courted for her pick of desirable positions, being very bright and able to speak Malay, Chinese and English fluently. However, in 1930's Singapore that wasn't worth a hill of beans: you were white (a huge plus) or not (a huge minus). Su Lin is determined to achieve a professional career, acknowledging the existing racial barriers, but refusing to let that limit her. Indeed, I'll spoil the ending in that her story is Law of Attraction in action, given that she achieved her goal in a way that could not have been predicted. The secondary characters came across as developed rather than cardboard, for the most part anyway. My biggest issue was that the audio narration took getting used to; if that format doesn't work for you, the print edition should be fine.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jillian

    I really enjoyed this one. While I liked much about the Aunty Lee series, it didn't grab me and have me wanting more. The Frangipani Tree Mystery, set in Singapore between the two World Wars, certainly did. The narrative flows, maintaining pace. It shifts easily between first and third person. The characters are rounded and sympathetically drawn even when hugely flawed. The reader empathises with SuLin and learns to see the colony through her eyes. It is a nuanced view of Singapore and of coloni I really enjoyed this one. While I liked much about the Aunty Lee series, it didn't grab me and have me wanting more. The Frangipani Tree Mystery, set in Singapore between the two World Wars, certainly did. The narrative flows, maintaining pace. It shifts easily between first and third person. The characters are rounded and sympathetically drawn even when hugely flawed. The reader empathises with SuLin and learns to see the colony through her eyes. It is a nuanced view of Singapore and of colonial life. I have that excitement and joy of being at the beginning of a series with characters I like and a setting that promises many more hours of reading pleasure. There is none of the reserve I have about the Aunty Lee series. How long, I wonder, before a second in the series?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ivonne Rovira

    Chen Su Lin — bright, speaker of five languages, with a Cambridge Certificate from a mission school — dares to hope for an independent life. Due to polio and her parents’ untimely death, Su Lin is thought too unlucky for a good marriage; she faces becoming a second wife or working in her family’s businesses by day, with “a life of beading slippers and making achar [pickled food] in my grandmother’s home” at night. Luckily, Su Lin’s devoted grandmother ensured a good education for Su Lin, an educa Chen Su Lin — bright, speaker of five languages, with a Cambridge Certificate from a mission school — dares to hope for an independent life. Due to polio and her parents’ untimely death, Su Lin is thought too unlucky for a good marriage; she faces becoming a second wife or working in her family’s businesses by day, with “a life of beading slippers and making achar [pickled food] in my grandmother’s home” at night. Luckily, Su Lin’s devoted grandmother ensured a good education for Su Lin, an education she hopes will open the doors to a job as a secretary or — dare she hope? — a “lady reporter,” like her hero, Henrietta Stackpole of the novel The Portrait of a Lady. Su Lin explains she has seen “a world of twentieth-century possibilities and I did not want to let it go.” Set in 1936 colonial Singapore, this debut novel in a cozy series delivers a real feel for its period in time and the arrogance of colonial rule. In addition, the compassionate, inquisitive Su Lin makes for one of the best protagonists I’ve come across in a while. Readers won’t be able to stop rooting for her. How pleased I am that there are already more three more books in this wonderful series by Ovidia Yu, one of Singapore’s best-known authors. I can hardly wait!

  9. 4 out of 5

    K.J. Charles

    I bought this for the setting (1930s Singapore), which was great. Tons of potential here including some intriguing relationships, but the book needed a lot more editing (jerky writing, repetition, POV lurches, inconsistencies), which is really disappointing from Constable. A lot of fatphobia, not sure if that was meant to be a period element.

  10. 4 out of 5

    QNPoohBear

    In 1936 Singapore is still feeling the effects of the Great War and the worldwide depression. Nevertheless, local girl Chen SuLin is eager to leave behind the Mission School and become a reporter. Her traditional Chinese uncle has other ideas. SuLin is bad luck. Her parents died, she had polio and walks with a limp. Her educations means nothing to her family, after all, her grandmother has been running the family business since the loss of her husband and two of her sons without much education. In 1936 Singapore is still feeling the effects of the Great War and the worldwide depression. Nevertheless, local girl Chen SuLin is eager to leave behind the Mission School and become a reporter. Her traditional Chinese uncle has other ideas. SuLin is bad luck. Her parents died, she had polio and walks with a limp. Her educations means nothing to her family, after all, her grandmother has been running the family business since the loss of her husband and two of her sons without much education. SuLin hopes her teacher, Miss Vanessa Palin, sister to the Acting Governor, will help her. Before SuLin can find a job, she's thrust into a situation she never expected. When the Irish-born nanny to the Acting Governor's daughter dies from a sudden fall, SuLin finds herself acting nanny to Dee-Dee, a seventeen-year-old girl with an intellectual disability. Chief Inspector LeFroy needs someone local to be his eyes and ears in this investigation. SuLin is quiet and dutiful and as a local girl, she will have access to information he will not. She agrees to stay on as long as it takes to find a new nanny, but when another person in the household dies, SuLin wants to know what really happened and why. She puts her reporter instincts to work, but can she figure out what happened without someone else knowing and ending her own life? This is a really interesting mystery. The plot kept me reading and reading. Finally I couldn't keep my eyes open so I put it down and picked it up again this afternoon. The writing is great and the story moves quickly. I only found it a bit repetitive. I did guess who the killer must be and why but I was't sure how. I wasn't entirely surprised by some of the revelations. The clues are right there staring SuLin in the face and I also have the advantage of understanding British culture and British colonialism. I didn't really like the fact SuLin is writing this down as an old woman and interrupts her story occasionally to say "later he would tell me" or "Years later" because I feel this ruins some of the suspense of the story. I remember learning something about Singapore in 6th grade, a very long time ago, but I don't remember anything at all.The setting is very exotic and the author does an amazing job of depicting 1930s Singapore. I felt like I was right there smelling the frangipani trees (without allergies!) and seeing the city streets. I loved being immersed in this new world. The author also works in the history and culture mostly seamlessly into the story. Because SuLin is writing this down many years after the fact, she can step outside her narrative and explain things to her readers. Her explanations don't interrupt the narrative because the history and culture of Singapore is woven into SuLin's own life story or that of her friends and neighbors. SuLin speaks multiple languages and words from her native tongue are woven into the story as well. I do wish there had been a glossary with pronunciation guide. I bet this book would be fabulous as an audio book. SuLin is a wonderful character. She's only 16 but sounds much older because she is considered an adult in her time and place. I identify with her strongly. I am not Chinese, from Singapore and have never had polio (thank you modern medicine) but I can relate to coming from a family that is both practical and superstitious at the same time and feeling like I don't always fit in because of my education and practical nature. I can also relate to wanting something more out of life. SuLin is practical and wise but she's young and also a bit naive. She worships her teacher, Miss Nessa and ignores her family's shady business dealings. She also doesn't understand or pick up on some of the clues because of her innocence. I LOVE SuLin's grandmother, Ah Ma. She knows all, sees all, and is the benevolent dictator of local society. SuLin loves and respects her grandmother even when her grandmother persists in believing in some of the old superstitions. SuLin tries to balance what she knows to be true with what she's taught to believe. She knows Ah Ma loves her no matter what even if Ah Ma doesn't always understand her. Ah Ma is a bit of light relief from the heavyish plot. Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy is firm but fair. He's single-minded in pursuing serious criminal behavior but powerless to stop unmarried females like Miss Palin from bullying him. I love that side of him. He's friendly to SuLin without any string attached or any sort of immoral or superior thoughts. He knows her family and how powerful they are yet ignores the illegal activities to focus on serious crimes. He doesn't use SuLin for his own purposes either. She chooses, of her own free will, to stay and observe. I think LeFroy knows SuLin will keep making this decision and he knows her quiet, obedient nature and her ties to the local community will help him out. It's funny when he tries to speak local dialect and SuLin comments on how he sounds like he's from the gutter. At least he's making an effort which is more than some of the other characters in this novel. Deborah Palin aka Dee-Dee, has the mind of a 7-year-old child in a 17-year-old woman's body. She's spoiled, bratty and lonely. She is not aware she's different or that her body is a adult sized body. For all intents and purposes she is a child. Because of her intellectual disability, she will always be a child while her brother grows older. No one really knows what to do with her. Her father, Sir Harry, is kind but kindness can be overkill in this situation. Brother Harry also seems to love his sister and be protective of her. Only SuLin really understands Dee-Dee and wants to help the girl. I feel sorry for Dee-Dee that her stepmother wants to institutionalize her and her father is too busy to spend much time with her. Yet I also found Dee-Dee annoying for the same reasons her stepmother did. I don't have SuLin's patience. Sir Henry Palin, Acting Governor, is nice enough to his household and to LeFroy. He sees SuLin and doesn't treat her like an inferior subspecies the way his wife does. However, he is a British colonial ruler and he does come with certain ingrained prejudices that LeFroy is fully well aware of and wary of. I was shocked at some of the things he did in the past and was prepared to do in the story. Sir Henry is a very complicated person. Is he a villain? Maybe. His second wife, Mary, is a massive pill. All she does is whine, complain and insult the servants and SuLin. She is racist, prejudiced against anyone not privileged and so afraid of her stepdaughter because of the girl's disability. SuLin feels sorry for Mary but I really couldn't muster up any sympathy for her. Some circumstances were beyond her control at first but she made choices in life and obviously made the wrong choices. Is she a villain? It sure sounds like it from the first page but like her husband, she is a complicated woman. Harry Palin is a dark horse. He seems to be interested in SuLin and dislike her at the same time. He acts world weary and cynical, typical of young men at the time. I grew to like him for his kind treatment to his sister and his shrewdness. I really didn't want him to be a villain. Miss Vanessa "Nessa" Palin is tough. She's a spinster, a teacher and a crusader. At first I loved her and hero-worshiped her the way SuLin does. Miss Nessa is a woman who gets things done and doesn't take no for an answer. Yet, she's tough on Dee-Dee. Yes, someone has to be the disciplinarian but her personality is rather abrasive at times. I hate to say Miss Nessa is a typical British spinster of her day but she does act stereotypical at times, bullying everyone and arranging everything to her satisfaction. This novel is full of complex characters. Some might argue that Charity Byrne was immoral and irresponsible, yet others may say she lived life on her own terms and was in charge of her life and her body. I feel the former is true for the time period and the latter would be true today. I wouldn't say I will slut shame her but she did make some bad decisions. Yet, she did what she did knowingly and probably calculatingly too in order to better her life. What other choices did she have? None, really, as a poor Irish woman living thousands of miles from family and friends only to find herself dying. Her story is really sad. I really enjoyed this peek into an unfamiliar world. I may want to read the other books in the series if the library has them.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Canaves

    Historical Mystery (TW suicide) Set in 1936 Singapore a local teen, SuLin, was orphaned young and left with a limp from Polio but, thanks to her aunt, received an education. Now, rather than allowing herself to be married off, she wants to work. Which works out for her because the nanny in the Acting Governor’s house is murdered and a new nanny is needed. Not the work she wanted but SuLin–who is smart, perceptive, and kind–finds herself trying to help the girl in her charge while navigating the u Historical Mystery (TW suicide) Set in 1936 Singapore a local teen, SuLin, was orphaned young and left with a limp from Polio but, thanks to her aunt, received an education. Now, rather than allowing herself to be married off, she wants to work. Which works out for her because the nanny in the Acting Governor’s house is murdered and a new nanny is needed. Not the work she wanted but SuLin–who is smart, perceptive, and kind–finds herself trying to help the girl in her charge while navigating the upstairs, downstairs and racial politics–Oh, and figuring out what happened to the nanny! She finds herself working in a way with Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy as he tries to solve the murder and she tries to get a handle on the family living in the Governor’s House. Then there’s another death…I especially loved the setting, characters, “partnership” and am really glad it’s the start of a series with two more books already out! --from Book Riot's Unusual Suspects newsletter: https://link.bookriot.com/view/56a820...

  12. 5 out of 5

    AliceinWonderland

    - This is a light read, and of course, I could not resist a story set in Colonial Singapore in the 1930's (being from Southeast Asia myself); but overall, I found the plot disappointing & the dialogue quite poor. - Le Froy was actually the most interesting, restrained character, followed by Su Yin (I enjoyed the reference to Henrietta Stackpole in PORTRAIT OF A LADY), but the rest of the cast felt two-dimensional and a bit shallow. - Also, from a narrative standpoint, I didn't like how it shifted - This is a light read, and of course, I could not resist a story set in Colonial Singapore in the 1930's (being from Southeast Asia myself); but overall, I found the plot disappointing & the dialogue quite poor. - Le Froy was actually the most interesting, restrained character, followed by Su Yin (I enjoyed the reference to Henrietta Stackpole in PORTRAIT OF A LADY), but the rest of the cast felt two-dimensional and a bit shallow. - Also, from a narrative standpoint, I didn't like how it shifted from mostly Su Yin's first person voice, to the occasional and random 3rd person voice. The inconsistency just drove me nuts. - Overall, not my favourite "cozy mystery", with the exception of the setting and description of local customs, language and food.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    3.5 Stars.... A delightful cozy mystery sent in 1930’s Singapore. Chen Su Lin is a native Chinese young woman sent to be nanny to a developmentally delayed teenage girl. She is quickly embroiled in the mystery surrounding the death of her predecessor. Lots of cultural and historical references gives a great sense of time and place.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sally

    It was a cute story and I’ll read the second one. I’m interested in seeing what happens with the Japanese in Singapore the next few years because my knowledge of history is weak in that area. SuLin is doing all she can to have a job and she was a lot of help to LeFroy. I think it’s worth a second look at the two of them.

  15. 4 out of 5

    3 no 7

    “The Frangipani Tree Mystery” by Ovidia Yu is set in the British Crown Colony of Singapore in the 1936. As in any good mystery set in this period, the dead body makes its appearance on the first page. Charity Byrne, a companion, teacher, and caretaker, fell from a balcony and crashed through a frangipani tree to her death on the paving stores below. Sir Henry Palin, acting governor of Singapore, and his family are naturally shocked by the death but yet somewhat bothered by this disruption of the “The Frangipani Tree Mystery” by Ovidia Yu is set in the British Crown Colony of Singapore in the 1936. As in any good mystery set in this period, the dead body makes its appearance on the first page. Charity Byrne, a companion, teacher, and caretaker, fell from a balcony and crashed through a frangipani tree to her death on the paving stores below. Sir Henry Palin, acting governor of Singapore, and his family are naturally shocked by the death but yet somewhat bothered by this disruption of their schedules. Details emerge that indicate that this was perhaps not an accident, but in fact a murder. The police are called, but Sir Henry wants discretion, “So that this matter is not blown out of proportion.” The story continues as the first person narrative by Su Lin who is sharing her experiences years later. At the time, she was a student at nearby mission school looking for something other than the traditional calling of marriage with cooking, cleaning, and rearing children. She was perceived by others (not herself) as being “bad luck” because both parents were dead and she had a limp resulting from childhood polio. Lin is reliable narrator; she shares her feelings, “I was young and awestruck.” and relates the things that she sees and hears. She has depth and shows unusual critical thinking skills for one so young. She takes charge of her life and moves forward in a responsible way. Lin wants to be sure her actions “would not discombobulate them” as she seeks answers and hones her skills for a better job in the future. “I’m not expecting to keep this post. I wouldn’t want to…I don’t want to be a nanny.” Yu, through Lin’s narrative, shares the picturesque geography of the area. “On both sides of the road there were rows of trees that had given Frangipani Hill its name. Beyond them rose a tangle of semi-wild rainforest. I saw clumps of sugar cane, tapioca, and a great many banana trees flourishing unattended.” She also recreates the social customs and conventions in Singapore society at the time. “One of the greatest strengths of the British Empire was the etiquette that guided civilized beings through all conceivable situations.” Readers, however, soon learn that this polite and civilized society is really a hot mess of crime, secrecy, and murder. Yu created a captivating, structured plot that proceeds at an even, predictable pace. There is no rushing through the pages just to solve what may or may not be a crime, but the investigation also becomes increasingly complicated as the body count rises. Readers follow along with Lin as the story unfolds around her. She discovers important information, seeks answers to difficult questions, and tries to unravel a tangled web of complications. The Frangipani Tree Mystery” is easy to follow and paints an interesting picture of life in Singapore in 1936. It is a book with mystery and murder, yet without too much blood and gore. The relationships make this a compelling novel, and the end hints that readers might see more of Su Lin in the future.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cathy Cole

    I was in the mood for a historical mystery set in an exotic locale, and Ovidia Yu's first Crown Colony mystery set in 1936 Singapore fit the bill nicely. The setting of The Frangipani Tree Mystery is worth the price of admission alone, but there is so much more to the book than its time period and location that I'm really looking forward to reading further in the series. Even though I found the identity of the killer to be much too easily deduced, I fell in love with the character-- and the voice I was in the mood for a historical mystery set in an exotic locale, and Ovidia Yu's first Crown Colony mystery set in 1936 Singapore fit the bill nicely. The setting of The Frangipani Tree Mystery is worth the price of admission alone, but there is so much more to the book than its time period and location that I'm really looking forward to reading further in the series. Even though I found the identity of the killer to be much too easily deduced, I fell in love with the character-- and the voice-- of young Chen Su Lin. Since she has a withered leg, orphaned Su Lin's prospects are grim according to her uncle who insists on parading one bribed and unattractive suitor after another past her. Luckily Su Lin's grandmother has insisted that Su Lin be educated, and it's this education as well as the influence of the mission school's head teacher that has made the young woman yearn for the freedom to do as she chooses. As Su Lin spoke, I kept hearing very faint traces of Laurie R. King's wonderful character, Mary Russell. And if there's a Mary Russell, there should be a Sherlock Holmes, right? There is, in the newly-appointed Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy. LeFroy is determined to use his wits and British know-how to ferret out any corruption in the police force and to put an end to crime in Singapore's streets. British he may be, but he's not the snobbish sort of Englishman. He speaks the language, appreciates the culture, and knows the traditions of the city in which he lives. And it doesn't take him long to realize that Su Lin is one very valuable young woman indeed. Originally hired to work as LeFroy's housekeeper, the inspector can readily see how important she can be to him as an informant in the acting governor's household. With characters and a setting such as these, it's no wonder I'm looking forward to the next book in the series!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brigitte

    What a lovely surprise. Wasn't sure about this book that was a book club selection as the setting was 1936 Singapore. However, it was just delightful. Lots of interesting historical background and info on cultural traits and superstitions. Great mystery, too, with a surprising twist. Engaging insight into English colonialism, too, and how they regarded "natives" and how the locals regarded their British "superiors." What a lovely surprise. Wasn't sure about this book that was a book club selection as the setting was 1936 Singapore. However, it was just delightful. Lots of interesting historical background and info on cultural traits and superstitions. Great mystery, too, with a surprising twist. Engaging insight into English colonialism, too, and how they regarded "natives" and how the locals regarded their British "superiors."

  18. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    The book set in Singapore in 1936 is a delightful mystery featuring Su Lin, a young amateur sleuth bent on breaking out of the traditional mold of an arranged marriage. The setting gives a good feel for the locale and times. Fans of Agatha Christie will enjoy the book and I look forward to reading more in this series.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Maya Gopalakrishnan

    The joy of discovering a new series is like the freshly baked hot cakes straight from the oven! The cream is if course, it's a mystery series set in the past and featuring a young girl detective. Can't wait to get my hands on the next few books in the series. 😄 The joy of discovering a new series is like the freshly baked hot cakes straight from the oven! The cream is if course, it's a mystery series set in the past and featuring a young girl detective. Can't wait to get my hands on the next few books in the series. 😄

  20. 5 out of 5

    K. Lincoln

    This was a delightful palate refresher for me from my usual historical fantasy/Urban fantasy escapist reads, and a satisfying mystery. Su Lin is the daughter of a rich Chinese family with slightly illegal dealings in colonial Singapore. She limps from childhood polio and so is considered bad luck by her family-- giving her a bit of freedom from the usual straight-to-marriage path to dream of a career as a secretary or journalist. This desire for more launches her from the mission school to a temp This was a delightful palate refresher for me from my usual historical fantasy/Urban fantasy escapist reads, and a satisfying mystery. Su Lin is the daughter of a rich Chinese family with slightly illegal dealings in colonial Singapore. She limps from childhood polio and so is considered bad luck by her family-- giving her a bit of freedom from the usual straight-to-marriage path to dream of a career as a secretary or journalist. This desire for more launches her from the mission school to a temporary gig as the nanny of the developmentally delayed daughter of the island Governor whose official "white" nanny just fell to her death from a second floor verandah under suspicious circumstances. Add in an open-minded British Chief Inspector who sees the Malay, Indian, and Chinese Singaporeans as humans, and you've got an interesting little cozy mystery. Honestly, the mystery wasn't as mesmerizing to me as the descriptions of foods, flauna, and customs of the period. There is a definite, strong and at times quite stereotypical theme of racism. For instance, the Governor is presented as sympathetic, but then is cast in a terrible light when a story about him shooting an Indian servant comes out, and he makes a stereotypical white-man boss move on Su Lin near the end of the story. Sigh. There's also some repetitious stuff related to Su Lin's care for her charge that was a bit skim-worthy, but I'd definitely come back to the next book in this series the next time I need a cozy little read with cool historical Singapore flavor.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Minx

    I loved the spunk of SuLin, she had been educated despite being considered bad luck and her physical impairment. This said a lot for her family in 1930’s Singapore where the local residents were very suspicious about luck. She had very little real-life experience but she knew that she wanted to have some kind of experience before her family was able to force her into a marriage. They were completely against her taking a job but SuLin would not be deterred. Her employment did not turn out the way I loved the spunk of SuLin, she had been educated despite being considered bad luck and her physical impairment. This said a lot for her family in 1930’s Singapore where the local residents were very suspicious about luck. She had very little real-life experience but she knew that she wanted to have some kind of experience before her family was able to force her into a marriage. They were completely against her taking a job but SuLin would not be deterred. Her employment did not turn out the way she had intended but taking the place of the deceased Nanny from the Palin’s household would give her better access to finding out who the culprit was behind the murder and she was also very curious about what truly had taken place there. SuLin was naive in many ways but wise in others. I loved the partnership that developed between her and CI Thomas LeFroy. He had many views on what a woman was and was not in this book but he was impressed over time by SuLin’s keen sense of observation and her ability to ride out tough situations. Even though they played a minor part in this story I really liked SuLin’s family because they only wanted what they thought was best for her. This was a fun and light mystery that had many interesting and wonderful historical details that truly transported me to 1930’s Singapore. I am very excited about continuing in this series and can’t wait to see where SuLin takes me next.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rob Kitchin

    This is the first in a cosy series set in Singapore in the late 1930s. The story is a traditional big house mystery in the vein of the golden age of crime transplanted to the colony, with the majority of the tale taking place in the Acting Governor’s residence investigating the suspicious death of the nanny. Although the police are involved, the primary investigator is Su Lin Chen, a teenager who is asked to temporarily replace the nanny until another can be hired. Su Lin is observant, smart, qu This is the first in a cosy series set in Singapore in the late 1930s. The story is a traditional big house mystery in the vein of the golden age of crime transplanted to the colony, with the majority of the tale taking place in the Acting Governor’s residence investigating the suspicious death of the nanny. Although the police are involved, the primary investigator is Su Lin Chen, a teenager who is asked to temporarily replace the nanny until another can be hired. Su Lin is observant, smart, quick-witted, and kind and is not going to let her polio-crippled leg hold her back. Grand-daughter of a major trader and money-lender, she’s determined not be married off to an associate of her uncle, and has ambitions to make something of her life. Despite the colonial attitudes and racism of the governor’s family she quickly fits into the household as she hunts for clues and uncovers secrets. Yu spins an engaging, well paced whodunit tale that has several twists and turns and leads to tense, though not overly surprising denouement. There’s a reasonable sense of place, though the focus on the residence and domestic relations means the colonial context and island society is somewhat in the background. The charm of the story, however, is Su Lin and the golden age feel of the tale. Definitely a series I’ll be continuing with.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    Fun and quick mystery. SuLin is a likeable series character, reminds me a bit of Flavia de Luce by Alan Bradley's mysteries. Even though SuLin is older (16 y/o) and not as macabre / nerdy over science, she has a similar irrepressible curiosity, and even though at 16 she's already pretty much an adult and looking at career prospects (the story is set in 1936), she seems young. I also like the Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy who seems like a nice man and mentor figure. Fun and quick mystery. SuLin is a likeable series character, reminds me a bit of Flavia de Luce by Alan Bradley's mysteries. Even though SuLin is older (16 y/o) and not as macabre / nerdy over science, she has a similar irrepressible curiosity, and even though at 16 she's already pretty much an adult and looking at career prospects (the story is set in 1936), she seems young. I also like the Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy who seems like a nice man and mentor figure.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    A quick, interesting mystery set in 1936 Singapore. I really like Su Lin and Le Froy and will definitely move on to their next adventure. Side note: reading this right now seems kind of appropriate with all its discussion of racism and weaponized whiteness.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael Kott

    It was okay, typical mystery. It was about Singapore in the 30's so I looked forward to it. Not enough about Singapore though and it was curiously edited. POVs bounced around and in a ew instances speech was not in quotes. It was okay, typical mystery. It was about Singapore in the 30's so I looked forward to it. Not enough about Singapore though and it was curiously edited. POVs bounced around and in a ew instances speech was not in quotes.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Spivey

    Very promising!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    A bit rough, but I am looking forward to reading the next book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kel

    The first read of our library's Genre Fiction Book Club! I'm not usually a big mystery person, but I loved it! If you liked Knives Out, you'll enjoy this! The first read of our library's Genre Fiction Book Club! I'm not usually a big mystery person, but I loved it! If you liked Knives Out, you'll enjoy this!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    This was fun. Really adored the heroine and the setting. Onward to book 2! CW: murder, colonialism-racism, ableism and ableist terminology, family dysfunction, heroine is beaten by the white woman who employs her and is threatened with sexual assault by one of her employers

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    This book was meh. The book was really slow with too many tedious uninteresting statements. I also thought the end was confusing and was difficult to determine whether the murders were an accident or pepertrated by a criminal.

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