Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Murder at a Japanese Inn

Rei Shimura is a young Japanese-American woman living in Japan. She is an underpaid English teacher, and she lives in a rundown apartment in a rundown neighborhood. But she is enjoying her life. Back in America, with her wealthy parents, life would certainly be easier, but the allure of Japan is too strong for her, even though she must make sacrifices to live there, and even though her parents don't quite understand why she needs to experience life in Japan on her own.

Although she teaches English to survive, Rei's true love is antiques. Finding herself on her own for New Year's, she decides to take a little getaway. She travels by train to Shiroyama, stays at an inn her boss has recommended, and hopes to spend a relaxing time sightseeing and exploring the antique shops in the area.

Instead, she finds herself caught up in a murder investigation, after the elegant wife of a wealthy Japanese businessman (or "salaryman") dies in the night. Rei discovers the body in the snow, and is called upon by the police to help with translating English during police interviews, as two of the other guests at the inn are native English speakers. One of them is a handsome Scottish lawyer to whom Rei is alternately attracted (he is very handsome and charming) and repelled (he's exactly the kind of man she came to Japan to get away from).

I enjoyed the setting of this mystery, especially all the interesting facets of Japanese culture that are woven though the narrative. The mystery was engaging, with a few red herrings sprinkled throughout the text, but it was not difficult to solve, at least not for this reader. I don't typically read mysteries just for the mystery, though - if I don't care about the characters, than I don't care whodunit. I could have done with a bit more character description and depth - sometimes I couldn't really feel that that motives for characters' actions were quite solid enough - but that is a small quibble for this most promising first novel in a mystery series. I will definitely be reading about Rei Shimura's further adventures.

Books in the Rei Shimura mystery series (to date):
  1. The Salaryman's Wife
  2. Zen Attitude
  3. The Flower Master
  4. The Floating Girl
  5. The Bride's Kimono
  6. The Samurai's Daughter
  7. The Pearl Diver
  8. The Typhoon Lover
  9. Girl in a Box
The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey (HarperTorch, 1997)

Winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel

Other blog reviews:
Brian's Books


  1. This sounds really interesting!

  2. sounds like it'd be a fun read. maybe i'll add it to my "to read" list for 2008.

  3. Nicola - yes, it is a fun read, and I didn't talk much about the characters I really came to like. Rei's roommate is so funny, and I loved the hilarious stories about trying to teach English to business people - they put "cafferatte" on the coffeemaker sign instead of "caffelatte," etc.

    Molly - I think you'd enjoy it - and from what I understand, the series gets better and better - I think a few books after this one she got an Edgar Award, which usually means an especially good read. Let me know what you think if you read it!

  4. I've never heard of this series. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention as I have a passion for mystery/suspense. And, I'll need something after (slogging through) War and Peace.


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