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Book Review:
The Five-Foot-Way Detective

Been a long time coming, this is the first bande dessinee by Joshua Chiang (no relation to Joseph Chiang). I am using the term correctly because The Five-Foot-Way Detective is deliberately done in the format and style of ligne claire (clear line) of Herge and the Tintin albums. Just like Tintin has Snowy as companion, Luk Man Fung, the five-foot-way detective (who looks like Chiang) has his monkey.

I remember attending the 2019 launch of Ronin Rat and Ninja Cat by Chiang at the basement of the Central Library (before its current renovation) hosted by Wiplash publisher Fong Hoe Fang. Now that’s a good read. Don’t be put off by its Disney-like title. It is obvious that Chiang has mastered the narrative flow of the comics medium. The pacing is tight with character development taking place along the way. Maybe it’s because of Chiang’s film background and working in animation, it is clear he is not treating the comic book as a storyboard. The comic book reads like a comic book in terms of storytelling and paneling

The Five-Foot-Way Detective by Joshua Chiang
The Five-Foot-Way Detective by Joshua Chiang

Unfortunately, the comic suffered from bad distribution and the rest is covid. A pity really, as I would like to see it succeed and for Hoe Fang to succeed as a comics publisher in Singapore.

Now, a second chance comes knocking but it depends on us to support. The tone is different from the adventures/bildungsroman of Ronin Rat and Ninja Cat. This is romance, love lost and found, political backdrop and intrigue, evil communists, the Hock Lee bus riots, and an overzealous and overachiever intrepid reporter saving the day.

The Five-Foot-Way Detective by Joshua Chiang

The book is peppered with singlish (not the right term to use back then but what the hell – malayanish?) like “Not telling you!” Maybe that’s Gwee Li Sui the editor at work.

Won’t spoil the story but just one comment. These days it is not kosher to use the communists as bad guys anymore. You can say it is not woke. To have the Malayan Communist Party as deluded baddies and ideologues is macham harking back to the 1980s narratives of The Tiger and the Trojan Horse and the novels of Lim Thean Soo.

But Chiang has done his research. He thanked the authors he had read like the late Cheah Boon Kheng. Given that he used to contribute to The Online Citizen, we can give Chiang the benefit of the doubt that he is not tone deaf or whatever terms are being used these days to cancel people and projects.

I told Chiang there should be a sequel for this. Maybe the Fajar Trial and the trials and tribulations of the Nantah students? But it is up to him. And we do want The Five-Foot-Way Detective to succeed, maybe a Netflix series?

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