Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Review of Ghost Month by Ed Lin (Soho Crime, 2014)

August is ghost month in Taiwan, a time to remember the dead and act cautiously given ghostly presences. Jing-nan, however, is not superstitious and nor can he afford to be given he has the task of investigating the death of his former girlfriend. Jing-nan owns a food stall in the Shilin night market in Taipei, working long hours to try and pay off his inherited debt of his grandfather. He dreamt of another life though: graduating from UCLA and then marrying his childhood sweetheart, Julia Huang. The death of his parents though meant dropping out and returning home, which also meant he did not reunite with Julia, who had enrolled in NYU. He is shocked to read in a newspaper about Julia’s murder and that she had been working at a roadside stall. She was a star pupil who seems to have fallen further than himself. The police seem little interested in the case and at the behest of Julia’s parents Jing-nan starts to investigate the circumstances of her death. He is soon warned to mind his own business, but with Dwayne and Frankie, his two stall workers, and new girlfriend, Nancy, he continues to try and find out what happened and why.

Ghost Month is set in Taipei and follows the exploits of a night market food stall owner to discover the truth about the death of his ex-girlfriend. Lin spends a fair amount of the novel introducing the reader to Taiwan – its people, history, culture, food and politics – and does a fair job of setting the scene. The story, however, is fairly weak in a number of respects: the characters are somewhat two-dimensional, the dialogue is wooden, and the plot is weak and barely holds together, especially given that Jing-nan is prone to always making poor decisions. The result is a tale that reads better as a travelogue than a murder mystery; which is a problem given that the book is sold as the latter. Having read the book, the praise on the cover and inside the jacket is the real mystery.

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