Set in 1940s Singapore, Lizard’s Tale by debut author Weng Wai Chan is a spy story filled with action and intrigue.
12-year-old Lizard lives on his own in Singapore’s Chinatown. After his guardian Uncle Archie went missing, he has had to fend for himself and that often means being in precarious and sometimes dangerous situations.
Even though Lizard is educated and resourceful, life is a challenge. However best friend Lili, who lives downstairs from Lizard is always looking out for him.
As the story opens, Lizard is about to undertake a job for Boss Man Beng – a small time criminal that he often does jobs for – however this time the risk of getting caught is greater and if Lizard does get caught then the cost could be his life.
Boss Man Beng will give him $100 (a year’s rent) for retrieving a small teak box from the room of Sebastian Whitford Jones of the East Indian Company who is staying at the prestigious Raffles Hotel.
The money is impossible to pass up however it isn’t until he’s entangled in a complex world of criminals, spies and coded secrets that he realises just how important the contents of the box are.
Lizard may have retrieved the box, but he’s also been spotted by Georgina, Sebastian’s daughter who has her own agenda. Aside from this, what is the meaning of the indecipherable book he finds within the box and why do so many people want to get their hands on it – including Lili?
While the story is fiction, the location draws on the author’s father’s childhood home – he grew up in a shop house in Tanjong Pagar similar to Lizard’s home.
It’s also set approx. 13 months before the bombing of Singapore by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1941. Author’s notes and a glossary of Cantonese, Malay and Japanese – among others used in the book – provide more detail and depth to this fast-paced story and may tempt young readers to learn more about this period of history.
Filled with lots of colourful characters and historical, political and social insights, 10+ readers will enjoy travelling the streets of Singapore with Lizard and exploring the climate of distrust and complex dynamics of the time.
Parents and young readers will be hoping for more books from author Weng Wai Chan and while we all know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – the artwork by Sarah Allen on this one is just too beautiful not to mention!
Weng Wai Chan was born and grew up in Singapore. She now lives in Auckland with her husband and three children. Lizard’s Tale is her first book.