Since we agreed that any category of book will meet our Asian read for March, I thought I would pander to those of us who love mysteries.
CHINA– Robert Van Gulik – began writing the Judge Dee mysteries during WWII by translating the 18th Century detective novel Dee Goong An into the title Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee – based on real statesman and detective Di Renjie (7th century). First book written as fiction based on Chinese detectives was The Chinese Maze Murders. Judge Dee solves three different and sometimes unrelated cases in each of his books.
Qiu Xiaolong – Death of a Red Heroine – his first title is considered one of the top 10 Asian crime novels (The Guardian UK) He has several other titles in the Inspector Chen series including Don’t Cry, Tai Lake. His most recent title Disappearing Shanghai is a photography/poetry collection with the poems written from the perspective and persona of Inspector Chen.
David Rotenberg – The Shanghai Murders – Rotenberg breathes life into modern-day Shanghai with its sights, sounds, and even smells, and creates a cast of unusual and memorable characters. In addition, the author, a director and university drama teacher, adds a fascinating and unusual dimension to the story through a character’s vivid explanations of a professional’s philosophy on the art of acting Shakespeare.
Peter May – his China series featuring Beijing detective Li Yan and American pathologist Margaret Campbell. First book in the series is The Firemaker.
TIBET – Eliot Pattison The Skull Mantra – from his Inspector Shan Series ( 8 books in the series) – When a headless corpse is found on a remote Tibetan mountainside, veteran inspector Shan Tao Yun is the perfect candidate to solve the crime–except he’s been stripped of rank and imprisoned in the gulag for offending the Party in Beijing. Desperate to close the case before the arrival of high-profile American tourists, the district commander grants Shan a temporary release. The embittered but brilliant Shan soon discovers the victim was notorious for persecuting Tibetan priests. When Party officials try to thwart Shan’s investigation by arresting an innocent monk, Shan is thrown into a maelstrom of political and religious intrigue. His search for justice takes him from an American mining project in Tibet to a secret, illegal monestary. Gradually, Shan exposes a massive crime machine that can only be stopped with the help of an unlikely alliance of Americans, aged monks, and even a sorcerer. This is a novel of great hope and great tragedy, of incredible greed and stalwart selflessness, and of the tremendous gulf between those who live for enlightenment and those who live for power.
LAOS/THAILAND – Colin Cotterill (you might enjoy seeing his webpage – colincotterill.com) Stories about Dr. Siri who is assigned the rule of national coroner – much to his distress. First in the Dr. Siri series is The Coroner’s Lunch. He also has a series featuring Jimm Juree – This one set in Thailand – a lady journalist.
John Burdett – Vulture Peak – A Bangkok Novel – Nobody knows Bangkok like Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, and there is no one quite like Sonchai: a police officer who has kept his Buddhist soul intact—more or less—despite the fact that his job shoves him face-to-face with some of the most vile and outrageous crimes and criminals in Bangkok. But for his newest assignment, everything he knows about his city—and himself—will be a mere starting point. Several titles in this series.
Timothy Hallinan – Poke Rafferty series – First in the series is A Nail in the Heart. Poke Rafferty had written two “rough travel” books set in Asia when he arrived in Thailand to write the next one. And Thailand – especially Bangkok – changed his life forever. Now married to the former “queen” of the Patpong bars, Rose, with whom he’s adopted a daughter off the sidewalks, Miaow, Rafferty finds family life in Bangkok to be more of an adventure than rough travel ever was. But, after years on the move, he’s also in the process of finding his heart and his personal true North. Although the books are thrillers, they’re also the continuing story of a hand-made family trying to stay together against all the odds. At this point, Miaow and Rose have as many fans as Poke does. The series has been nominated for multiple awards, has been on numerous Ten Best lists, and is translated into several languages.
JAPAN – Kenzo Kitakata – The Cage – novels designated as “hard boiled” – focuses on the world of the yakuza gangsters. It is the first novel that centers on a professional criminal and the police officers who combat him.
Natsuo Kirino – crime as focus but sort of accidental crimes committed by ordinary if socially marginal people at the end of their ropes. Most famous is Out which received the Mystery Writers of Japan Award.
Sujata Massey – The Salaryman’s Wife – winner of Agatha Award for best first novel – Meet Rei Shimura, an underpaid English teacher in Tokyo who wishes she was doing something better with her life. Her chance comes unexpectedly, when she goes on a New Year’s vacation to the Japanese Alps and finds the body of a Japanese executive’s wife in the snow. Who killed Setsuko Nakamura, and why is Hugh Glendinning, the handsome Scottish lawyer who works with Setsuko’s husband leaning so hard on Rei for help? It’s great to start off with the first book in a series, and this book is especially rich in details of Japanese urban life
NORTH KOREA – James Church – author of the Inspector O series – First in the series is A Corpse in the Koryo – This is a fine, intelligent, and exciting story that takes us into the netherworld of contemporary North Korean communism. It evokes the gray milieu without ever overstepping its mark, allowing us to see it from the inside rather than the outside, wherein the humanity of all the characters, both good and evil, is apparent. Inspector O is a particularly wonderful creation, a true mensch attempting to hold on to his humanity in a world where humanism is under constant attack.