‘It was the violence he feared he had not yet seen, the violence that might even be hiding deep within himself.’ — The Ambassador’s Wife, Jake Needham.

I’ve been kidnapped by a Jake Needham novel.  Now that   got your attention.

Tay’s father has a few skeletons in the cupboard. Could it be possible that Jake Needham has connected his first book, The Big Mango  to The Umbrella Man?

Tay’s mother thinks so. She is long dead and is appearing in Tay’s line of vision, first as a soft glowing light, and in later books, she appears in full body as an apparition.  Now that he’s  been tipped off, whether from  the temporal zone of  his  subconscious  or the spiritual realm of the afterlife, he needs every lead he can get to  solve the recent spate of  bombings that have left pockmarked craters on a once pristine and prissy city.

The boredom of orderly Singapore. Jake Needham   won’t have any of that. It’s remedied again that in The Umbrella Man.  There’s always a party  of words in Singapore with Inspector Tay around. Thoughts are seeping out of the Inspector Tay books – he rarely switches off, unless of course when he’s smoking his  beloved Marlboro Red, only then he’s at one with the Universe.

But there’s apparent humour in his  rationalizing which is very hard to overlook — see Inspector  Tay isn’t that much of a misanthropist after all:   ‘For some reason, every time he sat on the toilet he thought about death. Taking a crap had become a Woody Allen movie for him. Maybe he was obsessing just a little.’

When Tay’s looking at a spot on a wall, he’s buying time. When other people are looking at a spot on the wall,  they are also buying time. But with  Tay and Goh,there’s never buying any time. It’s usually  who can get the most gunfire of smartass comments in.

Philip Goh , who is introduced in this, the second of the Inspector Tay  novel  series (there are four of them), usually  holds his own  against Tay. Goh,  who  is high up in ISD (Internal Security Division), has got a badass scar from his hairline to his jaw, to prove his street credentials. Tay isn’t’ sure whether it’s just from a fencing duel or knocking his head on the corner of the table as a child.

Goh can hold his own against Tay, and the Inspector actually respects him for it. Tay is always trying to get the best out of Singaporeans, and Goh seems like his equivalent in another department.

“You’re not nearly this important,’ says Goh, when Tay suspects he is reviewing his files after he barges into  his office. ‘Your file’s only got about six pieces of paper in it. And there’s a picture of Mickey Mouse on the cover.’

Singapore needs misfits to keep the country running. Some jobs require balls.

Even Tay’s sidekick Robbie Kang has a rebellious streak in him. The same goes for the lady who does autopsies – Doctor Susan Hoi and Tay’s boss –  he likes looking at spots on the wall too  and doesn’t mind turning a blind eye for Tay to get the job done.

There’s no doubt about Tay’s individuality. He represents the collective conscience of Singapore that in public doesn’t dare  voice its rebellious side. But huddled indoors, away from prying eyes and ears, double deals are easily made.

Is Tay’s tenacious individuality corrupting Singapore? Or was that strain always alive and active, but only needed some cultivation from altruistic acts?

‘It was like keeping a pet, wasn’t it? A pet who gave blowjobs. Probably.’ Wait for it, a cluster fuck is on its way. Tay doesn’t always get it right. But he’s such a nice guy, even Mei Lin  cuts him some slack.

As always, the stakes are high on this one. People die. But who were responsible for the bomb attacks? It could have been some kind of inside job by a  disenfranchised group. The Pakis get a mention – and no the author isn’t racist, but they could be the bombers too. So it wasn’t Jemaah Islamiyah? Ask Tay, I’m only the messenger.

Now where did that harbinger of death disappear too. Who was that masked man?

John August – he’s a shadowy character, maybe a  CIA spook or maybe not – and he just happens to like Inspector Tay.  He’s kind of like the  Fix-it-Felix  character in Wreck it Ralph, but he never receives apple pies from the Nicelanders. No one really knows what August’s rewards are, except perhaps a wink and a nod, and thanks for keeping our secrets safe.

Witch Hazels might be the  harbingers of spring, but even the mention of  the name of John August could mean a fast track  ticket to hell.

He isn’t to be fucked with, unless of course you want to die a quick death.

Philip Morris Singapore, you owe Jake Needham big time.

“A carton of Marlboro Reds will do.”  I can hear Tay thinking again. He’s very transparent like that.  

Is Singapore riddled with little individualists? They are in Jake  Needham novels.

The first time I read this book, I was sitting tight in an insurgent zone in Thailand.

Singapore wasn’t the only place to be bombed that day. A giant car bomb went off while I was huddled in my room devouring The Umbrella Man. If Tay could survive the aftermath of a bomb, so could I. 




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