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Got Ways of Knowing

The Mimosa Tree Mystery  (Crown Colony, volume 4)

By Ovidia Yu 

9 May, 2024

Miscellaneous Reviews


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2020’s The Mimosa Tree Mystery is the fourth volume in Ovidia Yu’s Crown Colony series.

1943: having survived the Fall of Singapore and the brutal massacres that followed, Su Lin and her family keep a low profile. The Sook Ching may be over, but the Japanese are still committing atrocities against anyone foolish enough to catch their attention.

Events transpire to focus the occupiers’ attention on Su Lin’s neighborhood and on her family.

The neighborhood is assembled before dawn, then forced to wait as a masked informant denounces unlucky targets. Among the accused, Su Lin’s Uncle Chen. Su Lin recognizes the masked informant as Madam Koh, who resents Uncle Chen because he stopped buying charcoal from Mr. Koh. Su Lin’s attempted intervention leads to Madam Koh’s arrest, but Uncle Chen is still detained, as is Su Lin herself.

In the normal course of affairs, the best Su Lin can hope for is a quick trip to Changi Beach and a comparatively merciful machine-gunning. As it turns out, intelligence officer Hideki Tagawa knows Su Lin. He has a better use for her than just another execution. As for Uncle Chen, he is simply a lever to ensure Su Lin’s compliance. 

Su Lin is an adept sleuth. Hideki needs Su Lin’s detective talents. Su Lin’s neighbor Mirza Ali Hasnain has been murdered. Mirza worked for the occupiers. It seems likely that his murder was intended to harm the Japanese Empire. It is up to Su Lin to discover who killed Mirza and why.

Mirza’s most recent efforts involved Operation Jaywick, a covert commando raid. Seven Japanese warships and one cargo ship were mined. Mirza blamed local resistance. Brutal reprisals followed. Evidence then emerged to point the finger of blame at the British Empire.

Perhaps Mirza discovered something about Operation Jaywick that required his murder. Perhaps he was killed because he was a collaborator. Perhaps he was murdered for reasons entirely unrelated to the war and the occupation. Su Lin and Su Lin’s family’s future depend on Su Lin solving the murder.

Were that not worrying enough, Su Lin discovers that Hideki has reasons to be keenly interested in Su Lin, personal reasons that have nothing to do with Su Lin’s detective skills.


I had expected that Yu would have published at a pace that would deliver a couple more books set before the fall of Singapore to the Japanese. Nope. This volume and at least the next one are set during the occupation. The only positive aspect of this is that as the first-person narrator of an ongoing series lacking overt supernatural elements, Su Lin’s survival is ensured. No mystery-solving ghosts for author Yu.

As to the occupation: I have lamentable news for persons of a certain political tendency. It turns out that Western empires have no monopoly on abominable behavior. The British were deplorable but the Japanese are much worse. I know, it’s completely astonishing that an empire busy killing a Hiroshima’s worth of Chinese people every two or three weeks should somehow be subpar administrators, but the facts are the facts1.

One might expect the Japanese to be a uniform mass of indistinguishable occupiers. However, this is not the path that Yu takes. Even Japanese officers responsible for high body counts are depicted as real characters, not just cardboard cutouts. Some of the Japanese could be said to be sympathetic.

Although the resistance is on the list of suspects, readers familiar with the series will know that the guilty party will inevitably turn out to be one of Singapore’s occupiers. This is as helpful at narrowing down the identity of the killer as knowing the guilty party in a Sara Paretsky novel is a member of the patriarchy2. Singapore has an abundance of occupiers at this time. Unlike the Japanese, Su Lin feels that she must blame the person who is actually guilty.

Su Lin must further wrestle with the fact that the occupying forces are not only arbitrary but disunited; various Japanese factions are energetically working against each other. Pleasing one faction could very easily provoke the lethal rage of another group.

The book is a serious examination of life during a brutal occupation. Readers learn just what Singaporeans were forced to do to survive. But this novel is also a well-paced, well-written mystery that should please even readers who don’t care about WWII history.

The Mimosa Tree Mystery is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Chapters-Indigo), and here (Words Worth Books).

1 The historical facts regarding Japanese war crimes presented in this book are facts… unless the reader is a Japanese ultra-nationalist still arguing about WWII. Vociferous embrace of alternative facts is not a monopoly of the West.

That said, Yu may have taken liberties with some details of Operation Jaywick, including but not limited to exactly when the Japanese discovered that the persons responsible were not local resistance fighters. However, there’s sufficient wiggle room between what’s documented in the official history and what might have happened without being documented that the book’s version can’t be declared utterly wrong.

2: Yu has written one book in this series, The Yellow Rambutan Tree, which is set after the return of the British to Singapore. Another mystery in the series, The Angsana Tree Mystery, is due out in June of 2024. I haven’t read Rambutan, but my editor assures me that there are several villains, some of whom are Singaporean, some British.

I seem to have been responsible for giving my editor a taste for Yu’s mysteries. She has branched out to Yu’s modern mystery series, which feature the cheerful Auntie Lee, chef and amateur sleuth. I gather that those villains come in several ethnicities.