Friday, May 29, 2020

Review of Zen Attitude by Sujata Massey (1998, Harper)

Rei Shimura is a Japanese-American living in Tokyo where she has started her own antiques business, hunting down pieces to order for her clients. She’s been given a commission to find a tansu – an ornate chest of drawers – from a specific period, and has a hot tip where to find the item. However, at the store she’s panicked into a bidding war and when the piece is delivered to the apartment she shares with her Scottish boyfriend she discovers not only has she overpaid, but the piece is a fake. When she returns to the store it’s shut up shop. Shortly after the shop owner is found murdered and Rei is convinced the death is linked to tansu. She starts to nose around, her amateur investigation annoying her boyfriend and his freeloading brother, the police, her original client, and those she questions. But despite various attacks on her property and herself she keeps prodding away.

Zen Attitude is the second book in the Rei Shimura series about an antiques dealer who plays amateur detective, without necessarily meaning to. Rei drifts into the investigation more to clean up a mess and save face than to solve any crime and her style of detection is the blundering outsider-insider (a mixed race Japanese-American) amateur who pokes and prods and has misadventures while hoping some useful clues will emerge and the case gets solved. All while trying to deal with a relationship in crisis as her boyfriend’s chaotic brother moves in with them. Massey tells the tale in the first person, giving some warmth and humour to the main character. The story is reasonably engaging and it trips along in a bumbling manner from one event to the next. But as it proceeds it becomes increasingly farcical, held together by a series of plot devices – forgetfulness, coincidence, fortunate blundering – many lacking credibility (the bit with the cigarette paper was particular hollow and the lack of recrimination baffling). The result was a light-hearted, whimsical tale that had a few too many holes in it.

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