Four Questions with a Reluctant Sleuth

Walter Woon’s Peranakan lawyer turned mystery solver tells all

By Jaclynn Seah


We are hurtling back in time to the 1940s – during the tumultuous Japanese occupation in Singapore where we managed a furtive meet-up with Dennis Chiang, erstwhile lawyer now just trying to survive and find his lost lady love.


BuySingLit (BSL):  You studied law - how did you end up getting involved in all these mysteries and adventures?


I didn't set out to have an exciting life.  After the growing-up years I spent in Fenton Abbey and Cambridge I came back to Singapore as a stranger in my home and homeland. D'Almeida was a family friend and the best criminal lawyer in the Straits Settlements and Malaya and I was honoured that he accepted me as his pupil.


I didn't realise his penchant for extra-curricular activities outside the courtroom.  His doings took me all the way north to the wilds of Malaya and back again after racing the incoming tide of the Japanese invasion.


BSL: You've gone through a lot these past few years - What is the most interesting/disturbing mystery that you've heard about?


Frankly, our time at Batu Sembilan chasing the British traitor and rooting out Indian nationalist subversion among the Bhurtpore Regiment was heart-stoppingly exciting.  I never expected to be in the orchestra pit when the curtain went up on the Japanese invasion.


There were lots of other hairy moments too in the last few years.  Getting home from northern Malaya ahead of the Japanese.  Being in the front line with Colonel Daley's forlorn hope of trying to stop the Japs from landing on Singapore Island.


On top of that, keeping up a triple life working for Takeda-san in Syonan while harbouring the head of the Communist resistance, and at the same time collaborating with an undercover D'Almeida; I was walking on the edge of a samurai sword between the devil and the deep blue sea.


I think that all these adventures must have taken at least a decade off my lifespan.


BSL: Do you ever wish you had a sidekick or a partner to help you solve a mystery?


To tell the truth, I'm the sidekick - well, me and George Singham to be honest.  D'Almeida is the expert at dressing up and mixing with ordinary folk.  He's clearly the brains.  George (who is D'Almeida's nephew, though he's uncommonly touchy about admitting it) has the family grey cells and connections within the Indian nationalist community.


Between them they do all the intellectual heavy lifting, and I'm the general purpose dogsbody; not that I mind, though.  It keeps life from getting humdrum.


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


The great mystery of my life is how three so different girls can cause severe dents in my heart. First there was Siew Chin, the Communist activist; then Daphne, the lost American; and finally, Helen, the Nationalist songbird.  How it's going to turn out ... well, we'll see.


Pick up a copy of The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea to find out what happens to Dennis Chiang next.

Thanks to Walter Woon for Dennis’ interview and Marshall Cavendish for the photo of book cover.


The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is part 3 of The Advocate Devil’s series – Follow Dennis Chiang’s adventure in The Advocate Devil, The Devil to Pay, The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and finish off with The Devil’s Circle.