Sunday February 17, 2013
TOTS TO TEENS
By DAPHNE LEE
A FEW weeks ago, I was delighted to welcome Felicia Low-Jimenez and Adan Jimenez to Silverfish Books, Kuala Lumpur, where they spoke to readers about their mystery series set in Singapore. The pair are a husband-and-wife writing team and, for this series, they write under the pseudonym A.J. Low.
I donít know about you, but mystery series were a reading staple for me when I was a kid (and I still love a good detective novel). There was a time when Iíd transcribe the text of books, whether they were Nancy Drews or Famous Fives, substituting the names of the characters and places for Malaysian/Asian ones. This makes the Sherlock Sam series very welcome indeed as its characters are regular Singaporean kids, with each book focusing on a mystery set in a particular area of the city state.
And, according to the authors, thereís a big chance that Sherlock Sam will cross over the Causeway and solve a mystery or two in Malaysia! I can already see it: Sherlock Sam And The Melting Lego Blocks In Iskandar, Sherlock Sam And The Feng Shui Master In Penang, Sherlock Sam And The Ghostly Warriors In Malacca, Sherlock Sam And The Disappearing Twin Towers In KL....
The first book in the series is Sherlock Sam And The Missing Heirloom In Katong. The heirloom in question is a family cookbook containing precious recipes for delicious Nonya dishes. Samuel Tan Cher Lock loves food as much as he does solving mysteries, so this case is close to his heart (and stomach)!
But letís back-track a little: If you think Cher Lock is an unlikely name, Felicia and Adan know someone who is called just that and it fits Sam perfectly as he is a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, Sherlock Samís sidekick is a robot named Watson. Although Watsonís name may seem like an obvious choice, he wasnít actually named with Dr John Watson in mind. Watson the Robot was christened quite by accident Ė but Iíll leave that to you to find out for yourself.
Besides Sam and Watson, recurring characters include Wendy, the young detectiveís condescending older sister and Samís parents; then thereís my absolute favourite character, Jimmy, a highly-strung boy with four sisters. In the Missing Heirloom, itís Jimmyís grandmaís cookbook thatís disappeared. Luckily, Sherlock Sam is on the case and, as thereís Ayam Buah Keluak (Chicken with Keluak Nuts) at stake, heís all the more determined to track down the lost book.
The second book in the series is Sherlock Sam And The Ghostly Moans In Fort Canning. Itís not in the bookstores yet, but I had the honour of being asked to write a cover blurb for the book and so got to read a proof copy (lucky me!).
I think itís even better than the first book because itís a little spooky and thatís always very exciting. My only gripe is that the ethnicity of various characters are mentioned in the book and I donít feel this adds anything to the story, especially as we know their names, which are alone indications of their race.
Now, when I mentioned this to Felicia and Adan, they pointed out that ďNot all Singaporeans and many international students are not able to differentiate between Indian and Malay names.Ē
Personally, I donít think this is a reason to mention the race of a character unless itís part of the plot or important to his development. After all, weíve all read British and American books where types of food, etc, are not explained. The whole idea is for the reader to go find out for themselves. Anyway, in the case of the Ghostly Moans, itís really irrelevant whether or not the reader realises that X is Malay and Y is Indian. However, itís a minor fault that did not stop me from thoroughly enjoying the book and I canít wait until it arrives in the bookstores.
By the way, the illustrations for the series are beyond cool and done by Andrew Tan, a Singaporean illustrator. For a sneak peak, go to the Sherlock Sam website at sherlocksam.wordpress.com where you can check out the cover for the Ghostly Moans, see illustrations of the characters, and learn more about the authors. (Incidentally, as Felicia has stressed in an e-mail, the illustrations in Ghostly Moans at least stay away from racial stereotypes.)
Sherlock Sam And The Missing Heirloom is available, the last I checked, at Silverfish Books (No. 28-1 Jalan Telawi, Bangsar Baru, KL; 03-2284 4837; email@example.com; silverfishbooks.com) and Kinokuniya Bookstores (at Suria KLCC), and you should be able to get it everywhere else very soon.
Happy Detecting and Happy Reading!
Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Speak to her at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.