Life of a Detective: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Life of a Detective: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Neil Humphreys’ bipolar detective has some cynical words for us

By Jaclynn Seah

Few people get the opportunity to speak with a top detective in the Singapore Police Force; even fewer get to speak personally with a famous one from Neil Humphreys’ Marina Bay Sins . We caught Detective Inspector Stanley Low from the Special Crimes Unit between cases for a few quick questions on fighting crime in seemingly safe Singapore.


BuySingLit (BSL): Tell us how you became an investigator with the Singapore Police Force.

I became a detective in a different Singapore, a naive Singapore, where I believed in the flag-raising, the sunny island's law and order, Majulah Singapura, the meritocracy, the whole nine yards. I thought there was a clear distinction between right and wrong, between the bad guys and the guy in the big white hat. But there isn't. And that's what pisses me off most. I'm good at my job, the best, no one else is better. But each case strips away a little more of my soul. I'm not sure how much I've got left to give. To be honest, I'm struggling to care. 



BSL: Tell us about the most disturbing case you’ve worked on?

Breaking up the Tiger Syndicate almost broke me. I spent two years undercover, as a grubby, bookies runner called Ah Lian. I earned the trust of Tiger*, this old-time ah pek who ran the world's biggest match-fixing syndicate. He was amiable, paternal, almost a father figure towards me. He was also a sociopath. I had to become him to catch him. He's in Changi now, awaiting the hangman's noose. But he still follows me everywhere.  


*Read more about this case in Neil’s debut novel Match Fixer



BSL: What is the secret to your success in solving crime?

My best quality is also my worst quality. My shrink calls me a misanthrope. The other guys in the Special Crimes unit call me an a**hole. The other guys are right. I think the worst of everyone - suspects, witnesses, even the victims. That way, I'm never disappointed. It also helps me see clearly. If I think the worst of suspects, I can think like them.  I dive into the disgusting cesspool of our so-called humanity. When I emerge, I usually have the most depraved answers. And I can never shake off the stench. 



BSL: Tell us one mystery about you or your life that no one has solved.

Why I'm so good as a detective and so bad as a human being.  My shrink keeps trying to solve that mystery and I keep telling her not to bother. I can get into the brains of most lunatics, but I've given up trying to get into my own.


Pick up a copy of Marina Bay Sins to find out how Inspector Low sniffs out the bad guys and fights his own demons, and the sequel Rich Kill Poor Kill. Follow #BuySingLit for more insightful interviews with your favourite local crime fighters and mystery solvers this month. 


“Walking with Murderers in Sexy Singapore” was a popular #BuySingLit 2017 tour based on Marina Bay Sins.



Neil Humphreys left his hometown in England for Singapore in 1996 where he stayed for eleven years. He then went to Australia only to return in 2011. His best-selling works: Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003) and Final Notes from a Great Island2006) were written during his first sojourn in Singapore. His other works include Be My Baby (2008), the novels Match Fixer (2010) and Premier Leech (2011), and Return to a Sexy Island (2012). In 2016, Neil released Rich Kill Poor Kill, which was shortlisted for the Singapore Book Prize.



Thanks to Neil Humphreys for Stanley’s interview, and Marshall Cavendish for the book cover image.

Four Questions with Chen Su Lin of The Frangipani Tree Mystery

Four Questions with Chen Su Lin of The Frangipani Tree Mystery

Ovidia Yu’s unlikely sleuth of The Frangipani Tree Mystery speaks out

By Jaclynn Seah

We’ve transcended the mysteries of time and space for a rare interview with Chen Su Lin, fresh from the pages of Ovidia Yu’s The Frangipani Tree Mystery, a whodunit set in 1936 Colonial Singapore.

Su Lin is a 16-year old local girl with big dreams of becoming a journalist – if she stays alive long enough to figure out who’s causing all the mysterious deaths around her first. We catch up with her at her place of work – the British Governor’s House on Frangipani Hill.  

BuySingLit (BSL): We hear that there has been a murder up on Frangipani Hill. What happened?


Su Lin: The Palins’ governess was the poor girl found dead under the frangipani tree last week. Chief Inspector Le Froy didn’t like it when I offered to help Miss Nessa Palin look after Dee Dee at Government House. I think I may have been too nosy for him!

My grandmother sent me to study at the Mission School thinking I might learn enough English to be a salesgirl at the Bata shoe store in Capitol Building. There I learned to read, which opened up my life.

Actually, my big dream is of someday being a lady journalist like Henrietta Stackpole who I think is by far most interesting character in that book Miss Nessa lent me.


BSL: Who is Chief Inspector Le Froy? Tell us a bit about him.


Su Lin: I’ve only just met Chief Inspector Le Froy in person. But I’ve heard a lot about him, especially how much he’s like the famous Chief Inspector Rene Onraet.  Do you know he actually speaks Malay and Chinese dialects? He even went undercover once as a Chinese drain inspector.

(She looks around carefully and her voice drops into a whisper)

I’ve also heard he came out East after his wife died mysteriously, but he never talks about her. *

*Curious about what happened to Le Froy’s Wife? Look out for The Paper Bark Tree Mystery (coming 2019) for the answer.


BSL: Le Froy sounds like a great detective. What do you think is the most important quality of a good detective?


Su Lin: To be willing to do all you can do and to learn to do all that you can’t. Here in Colonial Singapore, it’s how we survive. And to be a good detective or good at anything else, the most important thing is to stay alive long enough to practice.

Now more people are dying around us, I may even be a suspect. I’m keeping my eyes open and trying to figure things out so that Dee Dee and I don’t end up as the next victims! 


BSL:  Good luck with that Su Lin, but before we let you get back to finding the answers, tell us one mystery about you?


Su Lin: I’ve always wondered how my life would have turned out if my parents were still alive. My parents’ death soon after I was born marked me as ‘bad luck’, and my polio limp means I am unlikely to find a good husband. Or worse, if my grandmother had done as the fortune tellers advised and given me away or had me put down a well. 

Pick up a copy of The Frangipani Tree Mystery to find out if Su Lin manages to figure things out in time. Follow #BuySingLit this month for more insightful interviews with your favourite local crime fighters and mystery solvers.

Thanks to Ovidia Yu for Su Lin’s interview and photo of book cover.

Ovidia Yu has had over thirty plays produced in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. She is a recipient of the National Arts Council Young Artist Award (Drama and Fiction), the Singapore Youth Award (Arts and Culture), and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) Singapore Foundation Award. She received a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of Iowa’s International Writing Programme.  

Her first children’s book The Mudskipper (2012), published by Scholastic, was shortlisted for the Hedwig Anwar Book Prize. Her murder mysteries, Aunty Lee’s Delights (2013), Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials (2014), Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge (2016) and both Meddling and Murder: An Aunty Lee Mystery and The Frangipani Tree Mystery were published earlier this year (2017).

Catch Ovidia Yu at the upcoming Singapore Writers Festival from 3–12 November! For more details, check out:

You can also check out her official website at:

Three Books to Read on the MRT

Gwee Li Sui Recommends

Three Books to Read on the MRT

As Part of #BuySingLit

The MRT trains keep stalling these days! Whether it be from a track fault or a signal fault, a delay is a delay, and we busy Singaporeans don’t take well to that. But, rather than get angry, why not amuse yourself and others by reading aloud from Ng Yi-Sheng’s Loud Poems for a Very Obliging Audience? Maybe not. Here are three quieter books to commute with…

Here Now There After, edited by Yong Shu Hoong

Here Now There After is hands-down the book to take onto the MRT! It’s designed for travel, with short, distance-timed literary pieces, all kept to a size that fits your pocket or purse. It describes itself as a ticket book, which I used to think meant a stack of travel tickets? Anyway, did I mention that there’s an actual $5-preloaded NETS FlashPay card inside?

This fun, compact volume has wonderful stories, poems (like, ahem, mine), and comics heretofore unseen because they’re that new! Its editor Yong Shu Hoong further throws in notes that tempt you to explore places and other titles should you wish to deviate from routine more. And, if you like what a ticket book is and are usefully bilingual, check out the ones in Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil too!

Click here to buy


Track Faults and Other Glitches by Nicholas Yong

Train delays can fry your brain and make you imagine all kinds of mad scenarios: that was what happened to Nicholas Yong. He has gone on to write a whole book of Singapore-based stories with zombies, ghosts, gods, time leaps, world leaps, and what have you. Then there’s that MRT story hinted at in the title, which is quite lovably creepy!

Track Faults and Other Glitches is a welcome page-turner for minds that dream of other realities. It’s excitable, imaginative, and filled with all kinds of pop references from TV, film, and comics. I suspect Yong may still be trapped within those references, but he’s having too much fun to want out. So for now here are ten tales that feel like worthy lost episodes of… The Twilight Zone.

Click here to buy


Objects of Affection by Krishna Udayasankar

Now my surprise pick! I don’t like crowds much, and so to be in a cabin with strangers breathing on my neck isn’t my idea of a nice time. This may be why, of all types of books I’ve read while travelling, novelist Krishna Udayasankar’s one poetry book is a unique pleasure. Objects of Affection is her collection of verse focusing on mere things.

You read that right: this book celebrates things and only things. They’re the everyday inanimate sort like a door, a book, glasses, a lipstick, a hairclip, a mirror, and shoes. For each, Udayasankar makes it speak and reveal dark secrets it alone knows. As you explore further, you feel yourself slowly changing in mind and physique too. How perverse, infernal, and – should I say it? – anti-human. Perfect!

Click here to buy

About the Author

Gwee Li Sui is a poet, graphic artist, and a literary critic. His published works include Myth of the StoneWho Wants to Buy a Book of Poems?, One Thousand and One NightsWho Wants to Buy an Expanded Book of Poems?The Other Merlion and Friendsand Haikuku.