The Ambassador’s Wife by Jake Needham

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First novel in a new series by Jake Needham, Ambassador’s Wife introduces us to Inspector Samuel Tay, a police inspector in Singapore. Tay is a bright, capable police officer, but seems always a bit off by Singaporean standards; he can be too frank in his speech. Yet he always (well, usually) manages to follow the rules of his job and society.
We begin with a murdered woman, body badly mutilated, who turns out to be the wife of an American ambassador. And the ambassador seems less than distraught by his wife’s murder.
Mr. Needham is an American living in Asia and his novels reflect that in-between feeling with many of his characters. Tay’s thoughts on the American law enforcement officers he meets reflect an Asian look at the personality of Americans: “[t]heir self-assurance, their boldness…their easy manner, their willingness to take risks.” (line119). Tay admits these are necessarily bad qualities, but they are so un-Singaporean, they make him uneasy. Yeah, I sense that as well.
The author brings in a sexy female FBI agent who further flusters the romantically awkward Inspector Tay. Her bold sexual come-ons clearly under his skin and cloud his professional duties. For better or worse, she is disappeared from the storyline. I thought the cultural dissonance and the sexual tension between the odd couple spiced up the story and should have remained in place longer. The author chose to cut it short, perhaps removing a distraction from the inspector’s mind. Or perhaps adding another level of confusion into the mix later down the road.
To further complicate things, another woman is found murdered in Thailand in exactly the same brutal fashion as in Singapore. The logical and methodical Inspector Tay heads off to Thailand (another residence of Mr. Needham’s) to investigate what appears to be the work of the same killer. Or a crazy replica of the first murder by another man.
Jake Needham deftly introduces us to another protagonist who is always stuck between two worlds, juggling professional responsibility with a messy (or non-existent) personal life. He also tosses in two Asian cultures: one that appears to be almost too well-organized and another that couldn’t hide its own stink if it wanted to.
Another great read by Mr. Needham. Thanks!

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