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Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Ambassador's Wife by Jake Needham

The Ambassador's Wife  (Inspector Samuel Tay, #1)The Ambassador's Wife by Jake Needham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If Larry David and Richard Lewis were to have a child together, and yes, that's a bizarre thought, but if they could, the result would be someone like the police detective, Samuel Tay, in Jake Needham's book, The Ambassador's Wife. Tay is someone who always seems to see his cup as half empty; he's a loner, age is creeping up on him, and at no time does he suffer fools gladly. And yet, for me, he is one of the more interesting characters in this genre of mystery story. He's a twenty year veteran of the Special Investigations Section of the Criminal Investigations Department of the Singapore Police Department. When the wife of the American Ambassador to Singapore is found tortured and murdered at the local Marriott Hotel in Singapore, Tay is immediately called in to investigate. The crime is puzzling because no one was registered in the room where the murder was committed, and there is no evidence of the ambassador's wife even being in the Hotel on the day she died. At first the identity of the body is unknown, so it is up to Tay to figure out who the woman is and how she came to be found in those circumstances. When it becomes clear to Tay that the FBI will also be investigating the crime, and the CIA is probably involved in some way, things become complicated.

There were several reasons why I liked this book so much. One was the location. I knew nothing about Singapore before I read this mystery, so I found Needham's descriptions of the city as seen through the eyes of Sam Tay to be informative and often funny. One of the best observations from Tay was his description of the heat and humidity. He reflects that if he owned Singapore and Hell, he would "rent out Singapore and live in Hell."

Another reason I liked the book was because Needham took his time in revealing plot developments. Along with moving the plot forward, he also continued to fill me in on the kind of man Sam Tay is. One of the best sections on that was when right in the midst of the murder investigation, which at that point needs Tay's full concentration, he suffers a personal crisis that momentarily stymies him. He seems so sure about his views on everything around him, but he discovers he too has vulnerable moments when he hasn't a clue how he feels or what he should do. It doesn't seem to have occurred to him that he too can be human and at the mercy of every day life.

After reading about half of The Ambassador's Wife, I bought Jake Needham's next book in the Samuel Tay series, The Umbrella Man. Now that I've met Sam Tay, I look forward to reading more about him, and how he tackles his next case. I encourage anyone who likes good mysteries with well fleshed out investigators to do the same.

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