Just a few of the many mysteries set in Asian countries

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 XiaolongDeath 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 BurdettVulture 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 KitakataThe 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.


check out the list at Book Browse


think this one sounds interesting

The Bathing Women: A Novel by Tie Ning b ook

We’ve all heard of China’s Cultural Revolution but what were its effects on young people of the time? Sure, the insight into communism and politics is invaluable. But it is the novel’s exploration of love, loss and friendship through the eyes of four Chinese women that makes this one a winner.

AND IN MARCH (March 21)

we decided to talk about books from a region – started talking about China but that expanded to Asia – big territory – lots of options.

And since we are speaking geographically, any category of books will do – history, mystery, travel, cookbooks, fiction, science fiction – and books set in the US by Asian authors also qualify.

READERS: start your engines


So today was a look at the classics starting with what exactly is a classic – probably didn’t come up with an agreement but it has to have lasted for at least one generation and it has to deal with some universal issues.  If an author has one classic,  does that mean all their books are classics – we got that one – NO.    And what current authors do we think might make the classic category in generations to come.  In the process we talked about way more books than I can list here.  (and sometimes I get so interested in the discussion I forget to write the titles down)

But a few – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith – immigrant experience.  Because most of us read it when we were young, it may have a nostalgia value beyond its intrinsic one.

Of Human Bondage – W. Somerset Maugham – beautifully written but LONG.  Cakes and Ale and the Razors Edge were recommended as less difficult ways into his books.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri and Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – lots and lots of kids books are classics.  Always a new audience

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte – a heart warming (eventually after all the trials) romantic classic which was reprised by Margot Livesey in her book The Flight of Gemma Hardy – we thought being the source of references for other books was another characteristic of classics.

In a German Pension – short stories by Katherine Mansfield (also led to mention of Enchanted April) – if you like short stories, hers are highly recommended.

Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde (and his plays)

Bel-Ami- Guy De Maupassant – A french classic which wasn’t as much enjoyed as the reader expected – has been made into several films – the most recent in 2012.  We also commented on the number of films that have books – many of them classics – as their basis.

The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. DuBois – historically interesting but felt dated.

The Inimitable Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse – because classics don’t have to be serious

The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas – one of the books that reminded us that you may know a book very well even if you haven’t read it

Mentioned quickly in passing:  Henry Beston – The Outermost House; Silent Spring- Rachel Carson; A Child’s Garden of Verses – Robert Louis Stevenson; Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert; Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier; Pat Barker’s WW1 Trilogy;  West with the Night – Beryl Markham; Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy; A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens; Caesar and Cleopatra by George Bernard Shaw; and Shakespeare –

In the category of authors that might make it to classic status in the future:

John Boyne      Andre Dubus III     Tracy Kidder     Isabel Allende      Barbara Kingsolver

John Irving   Lois McMaster Bujold     Margaret Atwood     Michael Ondaatje

Nathaniel Philbrick (book we couldn’t remember was In the Heart of the Sea)


CLASSICS TOMORROW – what should we do in March?

Hope you’ll be joining us at 11 tomorrow to talk about classics – perhaps in contrast to the recent reads we talked about in January.

BUT – we haven’t selected a topic or subject for March.  I have a few suggestions but I am hoping you have something you’d really like to do.


Things I have been thinking about: 

Books set in a location – since yesterday was Chinese New Year’s I was thinking about China.

A book from a genre/category you never read – (which, of course, would vary for each of us) – Science fiction, YA titles, Romance books, History, Philosophy, graphic novels, mystery/thriller – the list is nearly endless.

Books on a specific subject you are especially interested in: – health (I just read Being Mortal which I think everyone should read);  environmental issues;  politics with the presidential race heating up way too soon to suit me;