My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Toyols 'R' Us starts off like quite a normal police procedural then veers quickly into magic. Inspector Khairul is at his wit's end trying to solve a series of deaths (murders, he thinks) that only have one apparent connection: a hacked off big toe and a body drained of blood. Elsewhere in Klang Valley, Harun introduces his cousin Ismail to a secret that can solve all his monetary woes: toyols. On the surface, Toyols 'R' Us aims to help people secure their financial future, albeit in not-quite-legal ways - but what is their super enigmatic owner hiding behind his cheery demeanour?
If you've ever read one of Terence Toh's short stories, you know exactly what to look forward to in his debut novel: an utterly Malaysian story guided by and wrapped in punnery and wordplay. And since puns tend to be somewhat divisive, you may end up laughing your head off... or rolling your eyes so hard it hurts. I think I did a little of both.
In between the wit and the fun, Toh doesn't gloss over the darker side of Klang Valley. There's that one-upmanship, the constant competition to be better, richer. The rampant corruption and cronyism. Religious extremism and cyber trolling. Unwanted pregnancies and abortion. Loan sharks and gangs. In some ways, it feels a little like an extension of the KL Noir series. Both obliquely and blatantly, Toh seems to include an underlying commentary on the social issues that plague Malaysian society today.
The ending lends itself to a possible sequel - and I would definitely pick up the next Inspector Khairul & Detective Fara novel if that materialises!
It's not perfect. There's a little more POV changing than I prefer, and also a bit of an almost romance (as in, it's set up to be romantic I think but isn't quite sure what it is) that felt rather awkwardly staged. But these are really rather minor preferences that don't detract from the enjoyment of the novel as a whole.
I absolutely loved this gem, the winner of Fixi Novo's inaugural Malaysian Novel Contest. A deserving win indeed!
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Not from Malaysia? Toyols 'R' Us is available on Amazon!