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: