Soho Crime, August 2014
This novel is as complicated and inscrutable as the Chinese, and probably could have been split into two or three books. It is a detailed history of Taiwan, a deep look at the culture and its people from the original aborigines to its more recent takeover following the civil war on the mainland and the settlement of the forces led by Chiang Kai-shek. Then it is a love story of sorts. And lastly, it is a mystery.
The story takes place during Ghost Month, a period in which the dead are commemorated. A haunting time. The plot tells of the love of Jing-nan and Julia ever since they were toddlers and what happens to them when they grow up. They pledged themselves to marriage, but then left for the United States and college on separate coasts with no contact. When his parents died, he was forced to take over operation of the family food stall at a night market. She returns to Taipei only to be shot dead, and he undertakes to find out why and by whom.
While the writing is clear and concise, I found the various digressions overwhelming, making it hard for this reader to maintain any kind of pace. It might have been a better read if the novel had been simplified, omitting a lot of extraneous albeit interesting information of the peoples and history of the island. The book is recommended for those who enjoy such a deep and penetrating picture of Taiwan.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2015.
A Dark and Twisted Tide
Lacey Flint Novels #4
Minotaur Books, June 2014
Still reeling from her recent harrowing experiences, Lacey Flint chooses to cease being a detective and reverts to working in uniform, albeit on a boat patrolling the Thames River; also living in a boat in a small inlet and taking up swimming in the polluted waters. But there is no way the author lets Lacey avoid danger and the taste of detecting. So it comes to pass one day that she encounters the remains of a female while swimming. And thus hangs a complicated tale.
Three more bodies turn up and Lacey becomes part of the investigation, which is full of twists and turns. It appears that the victims were from Afghanistan and smuggled up the Thames to some hidden location near where Lacey’s boat is docked. So the investigation initially is centered on a case involving people-smuggling. The question, of course, is why. A subplot involves Dana (Lacey’s boss) and her significant other, Helen, in their quest to have a baby, bringing them to a fertility clinic, setting the stage for another character to play a role in an ending that boggles the mind.
The author is famous for constructing novels full of surprises, and this one is no different. It is full of red herrings keeping the reader off balance and turning pages to find out what happens next.
Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2015.