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Book Notes: Singapore Sapphire

Anyone who has asked me for help in the mystery section of Island Books knows that, with very few exceptions (Louise Penny and Ann Cleeves), I do not read contemporary mysteries. I prefer any bloody murder to be at a historical remove. But I also realized, after combing through my reading journal, I’ve primarily read mysteries set in Regency London. Or World War I London. Or post-WWII London. The common denominator apparently being historical London. So when I visited the meticulously curated Lopez Bookshop last fall, I took a chance on expanding my comfort zone with the delightfully titled Singapore Sapphire, by A.M. Stuart, a historical mystery set in turn of the century colonial Singapore.

This series focuses on the widowed Harriet Gordon, who has joined her brother in Singapore following a traumatizing imprisonment in England due to involvement in the suffragette movement. In changing scene to Singapore, Harriet is hoping to put her past behind her and move amongst people who don’t know her history. To earn a bit of money, she offers her services as a confidential personal secretary. Unfortunately she discovers her first client, Sir Oswald Newbold, dead in his home only a day after their first appointment. When the police arrive, Inspector Robert Curran realizes that Harriet is an asset to the case with her keen eye for detail and a practicality honed by years living at the far reaches of the British Empire. He finds himself drawing more and more on her observations, and after another death is connected to Sir Oswald, Curran can’t help but lean on Harriet to help him untangle a dangerous web of deception.

Branching out to colonial Singapore from London felt like I was pushing myself a little, even though the main characters were still Brits. Stuart does a wonderful job of evoking her setting and describing the variety of people from around the world trying to make their way, however unsavory, in Singapore. Mystery series that hold my interest tend to contain central characters with an engaging partnership. With Harriet and Curran, their friendship and trust in each other slowly evolves while they put together the pieces of the murder. Stuart also lays the groundwork for longer character arcs, leaving me eager to start the next in the series.

I raced through the subsequent books, Revenge in Rubies and Evil in Emeralds, The final book in the series has a title, Terror in Topaz, but sadly no publication date yet. For those of you who are fond of historical mysteries like I am, give the Harriet Gordon series a try!

— Lori