I was looking forward to reading this book, ‘Misdirection’, as I’ve enjoyed the previous books by Ning Cai (and also her co-authors). Someone from the publishing house actually got in touch with me earlier on and said they’ll send a copy for me to review but in the end, they pulled a disappearing act on me, it seems. So I went to the library and borrowed a copy – NLB purchased so many copies that reservations aren’t even required! There are at least 3 copies in each library! And I’m done reading the book in just 2 days. And 1 thing I have to say is that I have a lot of respect for folks who write novels – it’s just so difficult to craft something so lengthy and keep the (modern) reader’s attention throughout.
Quick summary: Maxine Schooling wakes up from a 3-year coma to find that her parents and younger brother with Down Syndrome have been killed. She discovers that she now has a photographic memory which helps her (and the police) tremendously in tracking down a serial killer, a.k.a. ‘The Singapore Spectre’. By the end of Book 1, she still hasn’t gotten any idea of who had murdered her family members.
And this book succeeds in ‘misdirection’. It seems to sail along just fine without too many surprises and you might even guess correctly who’s the villain even though it might not be entirely obvious at the start. However, there’s still a right hook at the end to make you wonder how did I forget about this person?!
This book, ‘Misdirection’, is targeted at young adults, and I have to add ‘Singaporeans’ as well. The book is simply choke-full of references that probably only SG folks will pick out. And let’s not forget the Singlish terms: “bak chew tak stamp”, “sibei expensive”, “his magic very tok kong one”, “lembek”, etc. The author also tries to incorporate lingo that younger millennials (not me) will enjoy – “savage AF”, “Netflix and chill”, etc. But would the young ones also know who ‘Teresa Teng’ is? And The Backstreet Boys? LIME Magazine? And Ning also borrows family names quite liberally, e.g. ‘Anandan’, ‘Dr Wijeysingha’, and of course ‘Schooling’.
Also, there are references to what Singaporeans will be familiar with: 100Plus isotonic drink, 938NOW, Mandai columbarium, Funan DigitaLife Mall, Razer mouse, Books Kinokuniya, Katong Shopping Centre, among others. But the main one has to be the “controversial megachurch” called “Crossfront Family Church” with an accountant in jail for siphoning off millions of dollars from church funds. *cough cough*.
I feel ‘The Savant Trilogy’ seems to be fiction rooted in reality. There are so many names, places and events that Singaporean readers will be able to relate to, so the line between fact and fiction is blurred. If that’s the case, then I’ll want it to be even more ‘realistic’.
For one, the protagonist, Maxine (or Max) Schooling, has been in a 3-year coma at the Parkway East Hospital. I did find myself wondering why no one pulled the plug during those 3 years – don’t they know we have a severe shortage of hospital beds in Singapore?! (Ok, ok, fiction book) By the way, a stay at the actual Parkway East Hospital in Singapore would cost $618 per day in their ‘Single Classic Room’ so a 3-year stay would easily cost more than a quarter-million dollars including all the other incidentals. And shouldn’t the vicious killer have returned to finish the job since he/she managed to murder everyone in Max’s family except for her?
Also, Maxine was attacked and fell into a coma sometime between 2015 and 2018 but when she wakes up and later uses her mother’s phone, it happens to be an iPhone 4 (which Apple launched in 2010) so I’m wondering why it’s not a newer model, e.g. iPhone 6 which her scientist parents would have easily been able to afford? Also, why would the horde of journalists appear at Mandai Columbarium because of her – someone who got out of a 3-year coma? We don’t really have a paparazzi culture here, and I can’t think of any journalist who would chase down a story all the way to the columbarium. Also, Snapchat was launched in 2011 but Max doesn’t know what it is because she slipped into a coma 4 years after the launch?*
*I have to admit that I’ve read this book only once, so maybe everything will get ironed out with a second reading. Pardon me if I’ve made any mistakes with this first impression from reading ‘Misdirection’.
Finally, I have to add that I feel a bit meh at the sheer number of references to actual people whether living or dead – this character looks like so-and-so, that character looks like this famous Korean singer, another character looks like a certain Korean actor, etc. Even the people who provided endorsements for the book (e.g. Neil Gaiman and Lang Leav) will find that they are mentioned within the novel. (@_@) When there are so many references to people, places and events we know, for me, it’s actually preventing me from getting lost in the book (something I enjoy, e.g. when reading the Harry Potter series which ‘transports’ me to a whole new wizarding world). That said, Ning demonstrates remarkable prowess in her use of descriptive phrases, especially regarding the weather. There are so many beautiful descriptions that just utilizing a handful in school compositions would make any English teacher very happy.
~ What I hope is not in the 2nd + 3rd book ~
I’m particularly concerned, though, about references to the LGBT community and supposed homophobic Christian churches. The Grindr app was also mentioned within the book. (If you don’t know what it is, it’s like Tinder for gays) I think that by and large, the LGBT community gets by unmolested by the rest of the population but for some reason, they can wear pink for Pink Dot but if churchgoers wear white, they’re up in arms. Can’t we just all wear red and be proud of our identity as Singaporeans?
I hope, too, that there won’t be anyone trying to flee from Singapore in a motorized sampan in the next installment. I’ve had quite enough of the CHC references, pastors dabbling in magic, and characters who apparently look like people we know.
All in all, the former ‘Magic Babe’ (now Mind Magic Mistress) managed to successfully execute a ‘misdirection’ in this 196-page book. Perhaps one day this book will be the basis for a movie and all the characters who look like famous people will be played by those same famous people. Now that would be pretty cool! 🙂