Monday, November 11, 2019

Review of Incensed by Ed Lin (2016, Soho Crime)

After his previous exploits investigating the death of his former girlfriend, Jing-nan is a minor, local celebrity. He’s not let it go to his head though and he still runs a food stall in the Shilin night market. As the Mid-Autumn Festival approaches, his gangster uncle asks him to babysit his sixteen year old niece. Mei-ling wants to drop out of school to pursue her dream of becoming a popstar. She also has a biker boyfriend of Indonesian extract who’s active in a gang. Jing-nan brings her north to Taipei, but Mei-ling has a habit of finding trouble and it’s not long until she disappears. In a panic, Jing-nan rushes to find her before she comes to harm and his uncle’s goons take matters into their own hands.

Much like the first book, there’s not much of a plot or mystery to Incensed. Instead, the novel acts more like a fictional travelogue for readers unfamiliar with Taiwan (I have a feeling the endless explanation will distract Taiwanese readers). Using colourful characters and light humour, Lin spends most of the tale detailing aspects of Taiwanese culture and society, especially focusing on food (present on almost every page) and the role and place of criminal gangs. As per the first book, there is also an on-going obsession with the music of Joy Division. The supposed hook for the tale is the babysitting and disappearance of Mei-ling, the daughter of a gangster. Jing-nan was charged with looking after the bratty sixteen year old. Which he does for most of the story. Indeed, it is only in the last fifth of the tale that the mystery element takes place, and that lacks any real puzzle with a weak denouement. If you’re after a real mystery, or plot-driven story, then this may disappoint. If you're happy enough with colourful characters, a few amusing scenes, and a fictional travel guide for Taiwan, then its passable.

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