Edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Paperback, 237 pages
2014, Akashic Books
I won an advanced reading copy of this book from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review.
Singapore Noir is a short story collection focusing on the darker side of Singapore. I’ve never previously heard of the Noir books, but apparently Akashic has a whole line of them from a variety of cities and countries such as Boston, Istanbul, Rome, San Diego and Wall Street! From the back of the book: “Say Singapore to anyone and you’ll likely hear one of a few words: Caning. Fines. Chewing gum. For much of the West, the narrative of Singapore has been marked largely by its government’s strict laws and unwavering enforcement of them. Beneath its sparkling veneer is a country teeming with shadows and in the following pages, you’ll get the chance to discover some of them. There is evil, sadness, a foreboding. This is a Singapore rarely explored in Western literature.”
This book is comprised of four sections with three or four stories each pertaining to the themes: Sirens, Love (Or Something Like It), Gods & Demons, and The Haves & The Have-Nots. I can’t remember if I’ve read much (or anything) set in Singapore, so this felt like a new experience for me. Most of the tales contain murder, or at least violence, so it might not be for the faint of heart – the material doesn’t have a lot of graphic detail***, but if you don’t want to read about murder and betrayal, then this probably isn’t the book for you.
***Note: There is one tale – Detective In A City With No Crime – that is very sexually explicit, and I wasn’t expecting that, so it grossed me out a bit. However, the writing itself was well done and I still enjoyed the story, just not the sexual scenes.
I felt all the stories fit together nicely. Rather than feeling like I was reading a bunch of random murder/mystery stories set in Singapore, it felt more like a novel but with different viewpoints and I enjoyed that. The characters in these stories aren’t all natives to Singapore either, so the reader gets more than one type of outlook or lifestyle – one I particularly enjoyed was Kena Sai, which follows an American who relocated to Singapore with his wife and child. Rozan, the author, made the father likeable and his appreciation and experience in Singapore actually made me want to go there, but with this fictional character as my guide!
I enjoyed the voice of all the writers in this book, though I’d never read anything by them previously. Here are a couple quotes/descriptions I enjoyed:
“…Seeing the Comrade drape his nicotine-stained fingers over her knee, a spider crouched atop a magnolia blossom…”
“The people we think we know the most are always the people we know the least. They carry their secrets within them with a greater discipline, that is all, but those secrets can be larger than oceans, deeper and more critical by virtue of being skillfully kept out of view by a surgical paranoia.”
If you’re into murder, mystery and betrayal, this book is for you! I imagine that the other Noir collections are just as gripping and interesting. There were a few stories that left me scratching my head at the end though (which could be a failing on my part), and I get frustrated when I don’t understand the ending, especially in a short story, but other than that I really enjoyed this collection!