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Almost a year ago, Jake posted a few paragraphs of his work in progress, a new Inspector Tay novel. Singapore enshrouded in smoke, was the headlines.

Singapore was in flames. Five star hotels were targeted.

Following up from the first of the series, The Ambassador’s Wife, Inspector Tay is still a loner, fond of his Marlboro cigarettes, and jaded when it comes to romance – he is still trying to avoid his neighbor who fancies him.

The town is now up in a blaze. Singapore isn’t what it seems to be. Dark local forces are revealing themselves in ways that Singapore isn’t prepared for. Only integrity and a hunch will save the day. Inspector Tay is up to the task.

Singapore has been shocked. Tay escapes a bomb blast. He is sick of being in hospital, and checks himself out. I suspect he wants a cigarette, and knows the staff won’t let him have one. He goes back to work. He’s put on a murder case. It’s about a foreigner who has been murdered in a suburb near the border, next to Johor. Jake describes the two cities well.

There have been comparisons between Johor and Singapore, one flash and orderly, the other poor and disorganized. Yet they are twin cities. And both mutually benefit each other. Tay does a few sorties into Johor, Malaysia, following up on his lead that saved the day in his last novel.

One lead is of a ’subconscious’ kind, a connection to his late father, and a meeting in Vietnam during the war, Tay follows the dots on a trail that leads to solving the case. Tay at times feels he is losing the plot, when his mother appears to him at odd times of the day and night offering her advice on the case. Remember, his mother, who he had not seen for many years, died in the last book.

These ruminations are a kind dialogues between Tay and his ‘subconscious.” Here we find Tay looking deep for answers (“He went to bed not knowing something and then woke up knowing it”) . As the plot develops, these frequent talking-with-himself dialogues, on a subconscious level, helps Tay develop a ‘conscious’ understandings of what is really going on around him.

Tay is told told to back off by the authorities but gets a tip-off from another shadowy organization that informs him that the spate of terrorist bombing isn’t Al Quada directed. They were local. For once, his boss, who knows that though Tay works in unconventional ways, will get results. He’s now unofficially on the case that is so intertwined with the spate of bombings.

Jake’s descriptions of Singapore is spot on. His way of clearing away all the propaganda and exposing how justice is dealt with in Singapore is both refreshing and chilling for authorities, who I doubt begrudge a foreigner like Needham who can expose the hypocrisy in the one state nation.

This is all done in the confines of fiction. The Umbrella Man is not only a great thriller, but an indictment against complacency and double standards, which go hand in hand in a small island state that espouses democracy while only allowing one party to operate.

These discrepancies are revealed by Tay, who despite being a Singaporean through and through, will go the extra distance to prove that there is justice and hope of democratic liberties, despite the nation’s autocratic outlook.


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