Jus­tice un­done

In our con­tin­u­ing se­ries Writ­ing The Na­tion ,we ex­am­ine the cu­ri­ous case of Malaysian crime fic­tion ... in which the bad guys don’t al­ways lose.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - By CHUAH GUAT ENG star2@thes­tar.com.my

IN the pre­vi­ous col­umn, I noted that in 1993 and 1994, three nov­els were pub­lished that ad­dress the ero­sion of the rule of law and civil lib­er­ties re­sult­ing from the mul­ti­ple Con­sti­tu­tional crises of the 1980s. And I dis­cussed Lloyd Fer­nando’s Green Is The Colour as a study of the lust for power and K.S. Ma­niam’s In A Far Coun­try as a cri­tique of the prac­tice of im­pos­ing one’s cul­ture and val­ues on oth­ers.

It is now time to look at the third novel, Echoes Of Si­lence (1994), a mur­der mys­tery, as well as later nov­els writ­ten in the crime fic­tion genre, to see whether and how they may have been in­flu­enced by the un­der­min­ing of our jus­tice sys­tem fol­low­ing the re­moval of the Lord Pres­i­dent of the Supreme Court in 1988.

Crime, or some form of wrong­do­ing, lends spice to any story, and we find plenty of it in post-In­de­pen­dence Malaysian An­glo­phone fic­tion: mur­der, as­sault and bat­tery, amok, rape, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, pros­ti­tu­tion, ar­son, war-time crimes, and crimes of cor­rup­tion.

But be­fore 1994, none of the nov­els can be said to be­long to the pop­u­lar crime fic­tion genre, which in­cludes the mur­der mys­tery, de­tec­tive sto­ries, and crime thrillers. The only pre-1994 novel in which a mur­der is com­mit­ted and the mur­derer ap­pre­hended is Lee Kok Liang’s The Mutes In The Sun (1964). Sig­nif­i­cantly, how­ever, although the mur­derer is put on trial, there is no de­tec­tion be­cause the deed is done in broad day­light in front of sev­eral peo­ple.

Ar­guably, the first full-length novel iden­ti­fied by schol­ars as be­long­ing to the mur­der mys­tery genre is my novel, Echoes .Init,a mur­der takes place and the pro­tag­o­nist-nar­ra­tor sets out to solve the mys­tery as an am­a­teur sleuth. How­ever, it de­vi­ates from the pop­u­lar form be­cause the mur­derer, although iden­ti­fied, is not brought to jus­tice.

This de­vi­a­tion, like the ti­tle, marks Echoes as a novel about the si­lences in Malaysian so­ci­ety – mis­in­for­ma­tion, dis­in­for­ma­tion, and lack of in­for­ma­tion – that make us com­plicit in the wrong­do­ings and in­jus­tices per­pe­trated around us.

It was about one and a half decades be­fore the next crime nov­els ap­peared: Sharmini Flint’s In­spec­tor Singh In­ves­ti­gates: A Most Pe­cu­liar Malaysian Mur­der (2009), and Ro­zlan Mohd Noor’s 21 Im­mor­tals: In­spec­tor Mis­lan And The Yee Sang Mur­ders .As­theti­tles in­di­cate, these nov­els be­long to the po­lice pro­ce­dural sub-genre; the crime de­tec­tion is done by pro­fes­sional de­tec­tives in the po­lice force.

This does not mean that we don’t have any other crime nov­els. Quite a num­ber have been pub­lished since the be­gin­ning of the present mil­len­nium. Most of them are writ- ten as thrillers and tend to be re­garded as “pulp fic­tion”, which is a pity be­cause they are very well writ­ten, highly en­ter­tain­ing, and nearly al­ways have so­cial-crit­i­cal con­tent.

Marie Ger­rina Louis’ The Eleventh Fin­ger (2000), dis­cussed two ar­ti­cles ago, is a psy­cho­log­i­cal study of a vic­tim of child abuse and also a cri­tique of the in­ad­e­quacy of child pro­tec­tion laws at the time. Brian Gomez’s Devil’s Place (2003) is a darkly hu­mor­ous ac­count of a young man ac­cused of mul­ti­ple mur­ders flee­ing from his pur­suers while try­ing to find the real killer and clear his name – but an im­por­tant el­e­ment in the plot is the is­sue of cor­rup­tion in high places.

The ti­tles in Ro­zlan’s In­spec­tor Mis­lan se­ries deal with se­ri­ous so­cial is­sues, among them the cor­rup­tion of higher-ups in the po­lice force that pre­vents po­lice de­tec­tives from do­ing their job and bring­ing the guilty to court (The Yee Sang Mur­ders), the plight of a Malay woman with an un­faith­ful hus­band (The DUKEx­press Mur­ders, 2011) and the per­se­cu­tion of mem­bers of the LGBT com­mu­nity (The UTube Se­rial Rapes, 2012). In ad­di­tion, his po­lit­i­cal thriller (The Gods, 2014) is a cri­tique of the way politi­cians and pol­icy mak­ers ma­nip­u­late the minds of the peo­ple.

Mamu Vies’s Dog Pound (2014) tells the story of a down-and-out young man drawn into a clan­des­tine fight club cir­cuit con­trolled by cor­rupt politi­cians. Hadi M. Nor’s Fam­ily Val­ues (2014) deals with the moral degra­da­tion of wealthy mem­bers of the coun­try’s elite who in­dulge in oc­cult prac­tices to sat­isfy their lust for money and power.

Now, here’s the cu­ri­ous thing about all these crime nov­els. In most of them, jus­tice is not done; the cul­prits are not ar­rested and taken to court. In some, the re­ally wicked ones ei­ther go un­pun­ished be­cause of a cor­rupt sys­tem or they die in some bizarre ac­ci­dent (as if by di­vine jus­tice). In oth­ers, the cul­prits are them­selves the vic­tims of past in­jus­tices, and even though they may have con­fessed their crimes, they are pro­tected by their loved ones’ con­spir­acy of si­lence. Or, if they are in­no­cent, they flee the coun­try to evade the law.

Should we in­ter­pret this cu­ri­ous phe­nom­e­non as a re­flec­tion of the au­thors’ lack of faith in our jus­tice sys­tem af­ter 1988? Per­haps.

In the run-up to Merdeka Day on Aug 31, we celebrate lo­cal lit­er­a­ture with a fort­nightly 10-part se­ries on how home­grown English lan­guage nov­els fit into the na­tion’s story; this is the ninth in­stal­ment.

Chuah Guat Eng is a Malaysian au­thor whose works in­clude two nov­els (Echoes Of Si­lence and Days Of Change) and three col­lec­tions of short sto­ries (Tales From The Baram River, The Old House And Other Sto­ries, and Dream Stuff ). Cur­rently, she teaches fic­tion writ­ing at two uni­ver­si­ties in Malaysia.

Could the real-life Con­sti­tu­tional crises Malaysia ex­pe­ri­enced in the 1908s have in­flu­enced the type of crime fic­tion that lo­cals pro­duce? — Reuters

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