Singapore Sapphire

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

Mrs. Harriet Gordon is a widow who has recently moved to Singapore (a British colony) to live with her priest brother Julian, who is the headmaster of a school for English boys. Trying to earn some money, she takes a job typing up the memoirs of Oswald Newbold, who is a British man who made his money from ruby mining in Burma (also a British colony). Unfortunately for Harriet, she is the one to discover Newbold's murdered body, and she is swept up into the case involving missing hotel clerks, kidnapped schoolboys, suspicious antique dealers, astute inspectors, charming journalists, and Scottish doctors. There's murder, intrigue, mystery, and danger around every corner for Harriet, and she is just the amateur sleuth to help Inspector Curran solve this case. 

3.5/5 stars for this cozy-ish mystery. Fans of Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell series will also enjoy Harriet Gordon's series as there is a female sleuth, an adept partner, and a potential romance (with a budding love triangle). However, unlike Raybourn's books, Singapore Sapphire is narrated third-person limited omniscient, and that prevents the reader from fully connecting with Harriet and Curran. In turn, it drags at points. I read it in only a few days, but I didn't devour it. And while I find myself starting to ship Harriet and Curran, I am also at war with myself as the liberal in me despises the potential romance that would break up Curran's (obviously) authentic love for Li An on the (potential) basis of Harriet being a superior match because she is British and Li An is Malaysian. However, there are so many hints to potential exploration of Li An and Curran's backstory that I suspect we'll get more on them in future books.
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I tend to gravitate towards atmospheric historical fiction novels that transport the reader to a different time and place. With Singapore Sapphire, Stuart has captured colonial Singapore with an acute attention to detail. I am a firm believer that a good historical fiction novel is one that can effortlessly incorporate aspects of people, places or events from history into the fictional story-line. Stuart accomplishes this with ease. As with most “first in series” stories, there is a bit of a slow build as the author has to take the time to introduce us to our lead characters – in this case, widowed Harriet Gordon, who is seeking a fresh start away from England, and our British Straits Settlements Police Force inspector Robert Curran, who some of the local expatriate community feel is "going native".  

Things I loved about this story? 

One, that Stuart does not delay in providing readers with a dead body and a suspected murder to mull over. No point in shill-shallying around when the purpose is murder! While I found parts of the mystery rather easy to figure out, Stuart kept my interest to the end, throwing into the mix a wider web of intrigue and some suspenseful moments. 

Two, Stuart has created well-rounded characters. Harriet is a strong female lead - independent, but not to the point of interfering in a police investigation (I hate it when characters think they can  take over the police investigation as their own) - and is the perfect civilian "sounding board" for Inspector Curran. 

Three, while we learn a fair bit about our characters in this story, Stuart has left room for further development. The author has imbued Harriet and Curran with enough chemistry for a possible romance, but leaves this as just a hint and leaves the field open, providing a possible rival for Harriet's affections. I should stress that this is not a romance novel, it just leaves the door open for a potential romantic relationship in future installments. 

Four, Stuart adeptly captures the setting (right down to the humid, fetid climate), the romantic lure of the Far East and the colonial tensions, all without overshadowing the mystery plot.  Overall, I found this to be a solid mystery with engaging, well-developed characters and a descriptively detailed exotic location. Perfect piece of escapism reading for this reader and I look forward to more books being published in this series.       

I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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This was fine.  I'd read the second book in the series.  I loved the location and the attention to historical detail.  The plot of the mystery itself was fine, but the pacing of the book felt wrong-- the second half especially.  I think most of the issue comes from the fact that our hero and heroine are separated.  In fact,  the heroine is held captive by the villains for the last half.  I wasn't a super fan of her being quite this level of damsel in distress, but it wasn't offensive to me either-- ymmv . Regardless, we often hear information presented to Harriet and then Curran figures out the same information in the next chapter.  
My other hesitation is that the author establishes early on that Curran has a Malay long-term serious partner, Li An.  She (and their relationship) is obviously not socially accepted in early 1900's Empire Malaysia, but it's very clear he loves her deeply.  But there is still a lot of hinting at a future relationship between Harriett and Curran?  Maybe this is my fault as a reader because I want this to be a nice, cozy historical mystery series like Sebastian St. Cyr or Veronica Speedwell, and I'm concerned that this power-imbalanced love triangle is going to make it... less cozy.  And based on the execution of the mystery's pacing in this book, I'm not convinced such a love triangle would be well-executed.
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I was excited to read a historical mystery set in Singapore, but I thought this story was a little slow. The mystery didn't grab my attention, and I didn't end up finishing it. I plan to, though, since I hate leaving books unfinished, but I guess I need to come back to this one.
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I was looking for something good in the historical fiction genre so was happy to receive a copy of Singapore Sapphire, set in 1910 China in exchange for my honest review (thanks, Berkley Publishing and NetGalley). This is the first in a planned series by A.M. Stuart featuring Harriet Gordon and Inspector Robert Curran, and is good on the history, less on the mystery…

Harriet Gordon’s brother (Reverend) Julian runs a school in Singapore, and when Harriet lands in Singapore following the death of her husband, she needs to find some paying work. She advertises her typing services and gets a job for Sir Oswald Newbold typing up his memoirs. He is murdered the next day, and she finds the body. 

Inspector Robert Curran is the detective investigating this death and a second murder of a young man working in the hotel. Curran realizes Harriet’s ability to see things and they work together to solve the mystery.

The historical setting is extremely well done, and the characters are extremely well drawn. The structure is not that of a typical mystery with the revelation near the end of the story, which might not be the best for some readers. Hence the “good on the history, less on the mystery” line above. I’d give it 3.5 stars, but I really am an easy grader, and the history is so well done, I’ve rounded it up to four.
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Are you in the mood for historical fiction that features a very interesting cast of characters faced with solving a series of murders and what appears to be a gem smuggling operation in colonial Singapore? If so, then this is the book for you! 

First in a new series featuring Harriet Gordon, a young widow who is staying with her brother, Reverend Julian Edwards, headmaster at St. Thomas School for English Boys. Harriet has a past in England that she was most eager to escape and came to Singapore to help out at the school. She's intelligent and rebellious, a former suffragette, and has some secretarial skills. Indeed, it is those abilities that lead her to finding the body of her new employer, Sir Oswald Newbold, a former famous explorer of Burma and who is credited with finding mines there that produce beautiful rubies and sapphires. She was meant to transcribe his memoirs for publication when he winds up dead in his ransacked home. Enter Inspector Robert Curran of the Straits Settlements Police Force Detective Branch. And thus starts the unraveling of the crime and surrounding mystery. NO SPOILERS.

Set in the tropical environment of 1910 Singapore, the sights, sounds and smell of the settlement come alive. The descriptions make you feel as if you are there suffering the humidity and heat along with the characters as they investigate the case. The writing is excellent and the pace of the story is perfectly matched to the climate and the time period. I enjoyed the development and the backstory of each of the people who inhabit the story and can't wait to learn more about them as I look forward to reading the next installment -- which, darn it, is probably quite some time away. I loved reading about this particular part of the world and am now finding myself doing a little research about Colonial Singapore and Burma and the Dutch East India Company. I loved the glossary and always find those translations helpful in really getting into a book set in a foreign locale. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Books for this e-book ARC to read and review. Hurry up, A. M. Stuart as I am eager to visit Harriet again!
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Widow Harriet Gordon has recently joined her brother in Singapore in 1910, serving as an unpaid secretary to the English boys’ school of which her clergyman brother is headmaster. Needing a source of income, Harriet places a newspaper ad offering her shorthand and typing skills in the evenings and on Saturdays. Her first client doesn’t work out so well. When she returns to his home following her first day of work, she finds that he’s been stabbed to death. The dead man was a noted explorer who discovered gem mines in Burma. Might his murder be connected to something in his past? Harriet’s observational skills contribute to the murder investigation led by the English Inspector Curran.

This is an excellent historical mystery with a strong sense of place. The characters are interesting and well-developed, with a plot that blends adventure with detective work. Harriet is a fairly young widow with a couple of admirers. One is an attractive journalist who traveled aboard the same ship as Harriet from England to Singapore. Harriet and Inspector Curran seem to develop a mutual regard over the course of the book, but this is complicated by the fact that Curran has “gone native” (that era’s euphemism for taking a local mistress). I hope that this is the first book in a series featuring Harriet Gordon. I liked the characters and setting well enough to want to see how they develop over several books.

This review is based on an electronic advance reading copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
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Singapore Sapphire is book #1 in the Harriet Gordon Mystery series and was a great introduction to this new character and setting of 1910 Singapore. I enjoyed this novel a great deal and thought Harriet was a great character, she was a contradiction of the times and definitely not one to be kept in a box. Harriet takes things into her own hands doing some investigating of her own to try and figure out who the murderer is.

My favourite character after Harriet was Inspector Robert Curran who is in charge of the murder investigation. He was another character who was ahead of the times and didn't always toe the line. I really enjoyed his interactions with Harriet and how he realised it would be helpful to have her on his side rather than trying to make her stand on the sidelines.   

This isn't a simple murder though and there are many twists and turns, people who aren't who they seem to be and mysteries that arise from the past.

The imagery that Ms Stuart manages to portray through her words was wonderful and I could absolutely see Singapore as it was in 1910. The characters of the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys' were well written, I definitely wouldn't have wanted to be on the bad guys hit list.

I look forward to the next Harriet Gordon Mystery.

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a digital copy in return for an honest review.
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After losing her husband and son in India, Harriet Gordon works at a school in Singapore where her clergyman brother Julian serves as headmaster. She decides to offer stenography services to provide income. She discovers her client Oswald Newbold's murdered body. Harriet's skills impress Inspector Curran. A clue VOC, which most people consider the old East India Company, surfaces. Inspector Curran and Harriet both know it must bear a different meaning. As the investigation begins to focus on the victim's past, multiple suspects emerge.1910 Singapore offers an interesting setting. I read an advance review copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Singapore, 1910. Colonialism is at its height, and many Europeans have come to the East to make their fortunes. Harriet Gordon is fleeing past trauma--including the death of her husband and infant son, as well as a stint as a suffragette that included jail time and has resulted in a mistrust of the police in general. She's seeking refuge in Singapore with her brother, a reverend and a headmaster at a school for boys. She advertises her services (and her typewriter) as a personal secretary, and gets hired by Sir Oswald Newbold--an explorer, mine magnate and president of the exclusive Explorers and Geographers Club, who's writing his memoirs. But when she goes in for her second day of work, she discovers him dead, with a dagger of Oriental design sticking out of him! (Sorry, the dagger of Oriental design fits so well in this genre that I couldn't resist!) And the manuscript is missing.
Inspector Robert Curran is not your stereotypical Englishman. He too carries a past with him, and his current living situation involves a local woman as his live-in lover and companion. He's thoughtful and nuanced. And he recognizes a similar soul in Harriet, who keeps moving the investigation forward. All signs seem to point to Oswald's past in Burma, and the ruby mine he was involved with then, which was a situation right out of "Heart of Darkness. " When a second body is pulled from the canal, the two join forces to find out what's going on. 
Singapore Sapphire is steeped in the steamy jungles and small town feeling that was Singapore in 1910. It exudes the tropics, and I loved the sense of place I got through it. It's also a fine mystery, with interesting characters and a complex plot. It's the first of a series about Harriet Gordon, and I'm looking forward to continuing the adventures of this remarkable woman. Highly recommended.
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Singapore Sapphire sets the stage for a new mystery series set in 19th century Singapore and it does not disappoint. Harriet Gordon escapes a devastating loss and a secret past by moving Singapore to work with her brother at a parochial boy’s school. After accepting a typing assignment to earn some extra money, Harriet finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation when she discovers her new employer dead!  Assisting Inspector Robert Curran, Harriet uses her natural abilities of observation to uncover the truth in a thrilling mystery of deception, corruption, murder, and missing jewels!

A.M. Stewart introduces a complex and endearing heroine in Harriet Gordon. The writing style is fast paced and easy to navigate. With the addition of an exotic setting and interesting historical period this book engages the reader in a way that is unique and exciting. I loved the book and am looking forward to others to come in the series. Recommended for historical fiction and mystery.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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Colonial Singapore and murder! Great reading!

It's the early 1900's in Singapore. So realistic I felt I was there! 
Harriet Gordon, widowed and made childless in one fell swoop in India due to Typhus, went home to England. It was there she came in contact with the Suffragette Movement, an organization that espoused those things she'd not only envisioned, but felt deeply. That path ended badly and she joined her brother in Colonial Singapore where he is the Reverend and Headmaster of a prestigious boys school for expats.
Wanting to at least earn some sort of living (any work she does for the school is unpaid) Harriet takes out an advertisement to work as a private secretary.
Sir Oswald Newbold is deciding to write his memoirs and calls on her services. Unfortunately when Hattie arrives she finds Sir Oswald dead with his throat cut.
Inspector Robert Curran is quite taken with the sensibility of Harriet when he arrives at the crime scene. Throughout his investigation Harriet is there in deducing things, if not prior to the Inspector, then not far behind.
All trails point towards Burma, Sir Oswald's explorations, ruby mining and scraps of clues that include a defunct reference to the East India Company.
As the story progresses we see the cultural divide between the colonialists and Singaporeans. The author strikes just the right note as the various cultures interact.
Curran comes under the fire of gossip, almost to the point of social ostracism because he has Singaporean mistress. However as he's a sterling cricketer much is forgiven. Curran tells Harriet, "Li An is more important to me than social acceptance.” Curran would marry her but Khoo Li An doesn't want him to fly in the face of his compatriots.
I wonder where this devoted relationship will go to in the future"
If future plots are as complex and delicious as this I am looking forward to more of Curran and Harriet and any futher investigative undertakings.
An intriguing and throughly enjoyable read!

 A Berkley Publication via NetGalley
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In Singapore Sapphire, Harriet Gordon was a fascinating three-dimensional character who had a sorrowful past scattered with dark moments that she desperately wanted to keep hidden. She worried how her past would affect her brother if it was ever to come to light. He was a good man who put himself into a rather precarious position in order to offer her a fresh start and she wanted to make sure that his decision never came to haunt him. To this end, Harriet tried to be as helpful as she could and planned to create as little disruption as possible.

As a way to show her gratitude, Harriet worked for her brother at a preparatory school for young boys but that position was without income. In an effort to bring in some income for herself and also to help provide more for brother, Harriet, experienced in both shorthand and typing, advertised her services as a secretary to anyone willing to pay. What she never expected was that her advertisement would be answered by a man whose time was measured in days.

When Harriet went to her employer’s home to retrieve a personal item left there, she never imagined that she would become entangled in a mysterious murder that would bring her to the attention of Inspector Robert Curran. The last thing she ever wanted was to come to the attention of anyone in the policing profession, not to mention that it could also possibly bring the past she was so desperate to keep hidden out into the open. Something she feared more than a killer running loose.

Curran knew from the start that Harriet was not like most women, but that did not mean that he wanted her meddling in his case either. Harriet was only too happy to let Curran lead the investigation into who killed her employer but when someone she felt a connection to went missing, she decided that she would do her part to see that justice was brought about. Neither Curran nor Harriet would have ever guessed that the murders they were trying to solve would lead to down a dark and twisted path where nothing was as it seemed and danger was just around the corner.

Singapore Sapphire was a culturally rich historical mystery with a splash of romance. The writing clearly sets the stage and immerses the reader in colonial Singapore. It was an imaginative delight! At first, I was not the biggest fan of Curran but he did grow on me as the story went on, it especially helped things that he, grudgingly, came to appreciate Harriet’s insight and value. I loved Harriet from the start! She was a fascinating character with a past that evoked a ton of sympathy from me. In addition, I also felt that the entire cast of characters were well-developed and memorable. The mystery in the story is one that is filled with suspense, intrigue, and is long reaching. There is plenty to ponder while reading Singapore Sapphire and it is a historical mystery that I highly recommend.

This review is based on a complimentary book I received from Berkley Prime Crime. It is an honest and voluntary review. The complimentary receipt of it in no way affected my review or rating.
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I’m a sucker for a good mystery and for me Singapore Sapphire ticked all the boxes. I loved the setting in early 20th century Singapore, a place rich in British colonial history. The setting truly comes alive thanks to the meticulous research of author A.M. Stuart. She clearly knows the area well and has used that knowledge to add an extra layer of richness to the story. It is the unceasing humidity of the tropics that particularly features as the tension escalates.
I was truly invested in the fate of Harriet Gordon, a widow living with her schoolmaster brother, doing unpaid work at his school while trying to earn a measure of independence by marketing her services in shorthand and typing. I couldn’t help but admire her both for her calm in the face of escalating adversity and for her logical approach to solving problems. 
Equally interesting was Inspector Robert Curran of the Straits Settlements Police Force, whose straightforward approach to investigating crime and his unconventional love life made him stand out.
While the characters in this story are beautifully rounded, it is the plot that really carries the story. With twist after twist, it had me glued to the edge of my seat. I could almost feel the terror Harriet faced late in the story. As the first book in The Harriet Gordon series, Singapore Sapphire sets a high standard for the ensuing stories to achieve. I am very much looking forward to finding out what challenges Harriet will face next.
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I loved the 'vibe' to this book especially the historical setting that Stuart used, it really felt as if you were in Singapore in 1910. There were some issues for me as far as the fact that I would have loved to get to know Harriet more, and I didn't quite like the interactions between her and Curran when they seemed to go beyond a certain level of their acquaintance. I think it made me a tad uncomfortable considering Curran's situation. I did love the sibling relationship between Harriet and Julian and would love to know more about both of them. 

Though this is set in Singapore the main characters are part of the Anglo community residing there at the time, and the other colonials and some natives they interact with. Singapore was a melting pot long before the US and I liked that this did make sure to hint at that. 

I also enjoyed Will Lawson and his part in the book, I think he was perhaps my favorite character over all, and Harriet and Maddocks after him. 

The mystery part of it all was my favorite and I thought Stuart did a great job with it and so much so that I certainly look forward to reading the next on.
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A.M. Stuart's setting of Singapore in 1910 felt so real that, as I read, I wondered how on earth women could survive there back in the days of acres of petticoats, corsets, and no air conditioning. The pace of Singapore Sapphire did drag a bit from time to time, mostly due to its being the first book in a series and the need to set up both characters and story, but there is a strong mystery that kept me guessing. The one thing I didn't keep guessing about-- the single clue about the murderous group of bad guys-- is something the characters in the book couldn't seem to get straight, so I have to admit that I did get exasperated with them.

The two leads, Harriet and Curran, are strong, interesting characters that can certainly carry a series on their shoulders, but I did wonder about Harriet even after her mysterious past was laid bare. She seemed to cry at the drop of a hat, and she seemed to get ravenously hungry so often that I thought she may be hypoglycemic.

Yes, Singapore Sapphire is a strong, solid start to a new historical mystery series, but I'm not sure that I will continue with it. As good as the two lead characters are, they really didn't "grab" me and make me want to read more. Of course, your mileage will certainly vary!
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It was 1910 when Harriet Gordon escaped the tragedy of her past to Singapore. Her brother, Reverend Julian Edwards, was master at the local school and Harriet did some unpaid work for St. Thomas. But needing funds saw her advertising herself as a personal secretary and when she began typing the manuscript for Sir Oswald Newbold, she had no idea her acquaintance with him would cause such dramatic changes in her life.

The murder of Newbold was particularly vicious – Harriet finding him was shocking. But when Inspector Robert Curran arrived at the scene, he was impressed at her calm demeanor. As the investigation advanced, the connection to rubies and other gems seemed widespread. With a young man missing, a body found in the nearby river and dark secrets finding their way to the surface, Harriet and Curran were facing uncertainty and danger. Who was the mastermind? Would they find the killer before he struck again? Because it was certain he would kill anyone in his path…

Singapore Sapphire is the 1st in the Harriet Gordon Mystery series by Aussie author A.M. Stuart (aka Alison Stuart) and I loved it! Two of my favourite genres – historical fiction and mysteries – combined to make an enticing, fascinating look at Singapore when under colonial rule; the daring of criminals in their desire to be wealthy; and the blanket of humidity which hung over everyone, leeching the energy from one and all. Harriet Gordon and Robert Curran were excellent characters. I’m really looking forward to book 2 in the series and have no hesitation in recommending Singapore Sapphire to all fans of historical mysteries.

With thanks to NetGalley and Berkley/Penguin Random House New York for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.
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Very good first book in the series. Looking forward to reading more from Curran and Harriet. Well done job.
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is is such an awesome story, I do love a good mystery and this one hit the spot, set in Singapore in 1910, MS Stuart took me back in time to murders and a gang smuggling gems and a story that I did not want to put down. I am loving Harriet and Inspector Robert Curran and am truly thrilled that this book is the start of a series.

Harriet Gordon has decided to start afresh in Singapore with her brother, Reverend Julian who runs a school, Harriet has been through a lot and is settling in in Singapore, but she needs to find some work and takes on a job for Sir Oswald Newbold typing up his memoirs, but when he is horribly murdered and she discovers the body, the peace that Harriet was looking forward to is not going to happen as she gets involved with this murder and more.

Inspector Robert Curran is enjoying his position in the detective branch, but with Newbold’s murder and a second murder of a young man working in the hotel, Curran realizes that his witness Harriet is very good at seeing things and when he uncovers things from her past they form a friendship that keeps them working together to solve the murders, but not before Harriet finds herself in very real danger.

This is a story that you will not want to put down, every time I had to put is down Harriet and the characters were in my mind and I never stopped trying to work out the killer or killers it is so well written, and so well researched that I truly felt I was back in Singapore in 1910, the characters are so alive and real the good and the bad ones, I loved it from start to finish compelling, gripping and fabulous if you love a good mystery then this is one I highly recommend.
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Harriet Gordon, who is in Singapore to start her life over, has just started a job helping an old man type up his memoirs when she finds him dead, messily murdered in his haunted bungalow at the beginning of A.M. Stuart’s transporting mystery debut, Singapore Sapphire. Unlike a lot of mysteries in which ordinary people blunder their way into a criminal investigation, Harriet has a partner, Detective Robert Curran, who seems willing to listen to her and never tries to talk her into not doing things. Even though there are the requisite moments of casual sexism and colonial chauvinism, Robert and Harriet have a very enlightened outlook for 1910.

At the outset of the novel, Sir Oswald’s worst sin seems to be boring others by talking about his one expedition to a mountain in northern Burma (now Myanmar) that was sitting on top of ton of rubies and sapphires. Who would have brutally stabbed the old man and his servant to death? Robert is immediately on the case, armed with the new techniques of crime scene photography and fingerprinting. Meanwhile, both Harriet and Robert dig into Oswald’s past to look for a real motive. Before long, people start disappearing and threats appear, pushing Harriet and Robert into harrowing situations.

While the mystery plot of Singapore Sapphire is engaging, realistic, and interesting, I was almost more interested in learning more about Harriet, Robert, and pre-World War I Singapore. I could feel the heat and humidity as I read the book. (There are a lot of references to sweaty Europeans.) And I wish that I could be friends with Harriet and Robert. I loved watching their friendship develop and there are just so many interesting details about them: Harriet’s past as an incarcerated suffragist and Robert’s love with a local woman of Chinese descent. I am really looking forward to their next adventures.
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