Realism at the heart of characters and storyline in Neil Humphreys' new book

Author seeks to bond with readers in shared sense of empathy in new entry in his Inspector Low series

Neil Humphreys at Kinokuniya Bugis with new novel 'Lost Women' (Photos: Neil Humphreys/Facebook)
Neil Humphreys at Kinokuniya Bugis with new novel 'Lost Women' (Photos: Neil Humphreys/Facebook)

SINGAPORE — Twenty-eight books in and author, broadcaster and journalist Neil Humphreys is still going strong with "Lost Women", the latest entry in his Inspector Low crime series.

This time, the novel straddles between Essex and Singapore over 12 women involved in a global trafficking ring. And, curiously, the inspiration came from the blockbuster movie hit "Avengers: Endgame".

"If it hadn't been for my daughter seeing Avengers: Endgame and having such a strong physical reaction to the death of a female character, I probably wouldn't have written the book," he told Yahoo Southeast Asia during his book-signing session at Kinokuniya Singapore's flagship store at Ngee Ann City on Saturday (6 May).

Why he thinks people resonate with Inspector Low and its characters

Humphreys describes his main character Inspector Low as a "funny, sarcastic guy" - a trait which some critics have deemed unrealistic, although he begs to differ.

Having spoken to a retired private detective for research, he discovered that the best jokes are cracked in the worst of situations. From crime scenes to war zones to funerals, doctors and police officers in real life crack jokes to serve as an emotional leveller.

"He's on the right side of the angels. He always cares for the less fortunate in society," Humphreys said of his fictional protagonist Inspector Low.

"Particularly in this book, he's championing migrant workers, the oppressed and foreign domestic helpers. He goes after the people above him, and champions the people below him. That is his number one quality, and that's why he resonates with the readers."

Having written books for various age-groups ranging from four-year-olds to middle-aged adults, Humphreys pinpoints that what makes characters real and relatable is when they make mistakes.

He cites the example of Dora the Explorer, whom he likens to an artificial-intelligence character for not making any mistakes. In contrast, his Inspector Low struggles with many losses, while his main character from his Abbie Rose from the Magic Suitcase books series does silly things and says the wrong things - just like a typical child.

In doing so, both the reader and fictional characters learn lessons through the stories, and bond over a shared sense of empathy.

How to inject humour in writing

When asked during his book-signing session how he injects humour in writing, Humphreys attributes it to the ability for self-deprecation, a skill he teaches in his workshops and classes.

Acknowledging that Singaporeans live in a "face-saving culture" where one is expected to win in all endeavours, he is well aware self-deprecation is difficult to some, because it is often about losing.

"You've got to be able to laugh at yourself first. If you can make your audience laugh about you, your situation or your main character's situation, then you are creating empathy. Once you create empathy, there should be a warm connection between you and the reader," he explains.

Humphreys' other advice: always punch up, never down.

"I've never made fun of people lower down the socio economic ladder. I've never made fun of domestic workers or domestic helpers. I will make fun of the people who abuse domestic helpers," he said.

Potential television series

At the book signing, Humphreys also shared that the Inspector Low series is in midst of an auction for a television adaptation.

Discussions with a production company have been underway over how Inspector Low should be played on screen and who should be cast in the role.

"It's very exciting, but it's hard moving on. There's a reason why authors don't often adapt their own work for TV," he said.

Lost Women is out now, with signed copies available at Kinokuniya Singapore's main store in Orchard, Kinokuniya Bugis, Times at Waterway Point and Plaza Singapura, and Littered with Books.

"I'm very proud of this one. Please buy it because my kid doesn't stop growing and I need to buy some new shoes," Humphreys joked.