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Hello Japan! mini challenge logoHello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. Each month there is a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan.

MAY’s mission was ‘Mystery and Mayhem‘: to enjoy a Japanese mystery story. And I did, but never got around to telling you about it. Until today! :)

My reading comfort zone is literary fiction. But every once in a while I’m in the mood for some suspense. A bookcrossing copy of All She Was Worth, by de Japanese author Miyuki Miyabe (translated by Alfred Birnbaum), dropped into the mailbox to meet my needs at exactly the right time.

Cover All She Was Worth (Miyuki Miyabe)All She Was Worth can be read as a straightforward detective story about the beautiful office girl Shoko Sekine who goes missing the night after her fiancé informs her the bank has turned down her request for a credit card. Police inspector Shunsuke Honma, single parent of a 10 year old boy, is asked to conduct the search.

But this book contains more than just the solving of  a mystery. It’s an intelligent tale about [this is a spoiler so you will have to check out the remark below if you want to know], contemporary Japan and life in a big city (Tokyo). I learned about how different it still is today being male or female, and about the pressure on women to marry before their early twenties — or you’ll be considered a spinster and not worth much. Hm, rather sounds like the age of the Brontë sisters! But we’re in 1992, after the money bubble exploded. The story unfolds linearly from January 20th on.

To be honest, all the background on the credit-based economy of Japan was the only thing that made me zone out every once in a while. Miyabe does a good job explaining but I just wasn’t interested. For the rest All She Was Worth is a real page turner and I would love to read more about Inspector Honma; an imperfect but likeable human being to whom I could really relate.

There’s just one more thing I feel I should add. Although the crime(s) described in this book may be horrible, the narration doesn’t contain any ‘gore’ like one might expect from a Japanese thriller. So don’t let that keep you from reading All She Was Worth! And don’t just take my word for it. ;) It won the prestigious Yamamoto Shugoro Literary Prize, which is awarded annually to a new work of fiction considered to exemplify the art of storytelling.

Original title: Kasha (火車)
ISBN: 0-395-96658-2
Publication date: 1999 (first publication 1992)

Sunday Salon logoThe Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of book lovers on the web, blogging about bookish things of the past week, visiting each others weblogs, and oh — reading books of course ;)

*** SPOILER ALERT ***
I learned a lot about identity theft — how scary: it sounds so easy!
[back to where you came from]

Japanese Literature Challenge #5 logo

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I’ve got some fun bookish things to share from the past week. First of all I received a RABCK from ApoloniaX in Germany: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Did you know it is the prototype of the modern detective story in the English language?

But that wasn’t all. I also received my present from velvet’s 12 Days of Christmas giveaway on vvB32 reads. A package with no less than 3 books and some other goodies! A post about that will be up soon, so I’m keeping the exact contents a secret for just a while longer ;)

I also worked some more on Graasland: I added my list of books read in 2001 and published my review of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. The classic is now on its way to another reader in the UK.

Me, I’m off to the suburbs for another release in Bookcrossing Monopoly. Sounds like I’m having a good time, right?

The Sunday Salon is a virtual gathering of booklovers on the web, where they blog about bookish things of the past week, visit each others weblogs, oh — and read ;)

It must have been ten years ago that I started reading Elizabeth George’s mystery series about detective Barbara Havers and DCI Thomas Lynley from Scotland Yard. Yes, I’ve taken my time: picking one up every once in a while, in chronological order. Reading these books is a treat: the characters are familiar and their personal lives run through the story as a continuous thread. I also find it relaxing that I know what to expect :)

A minor point of critique is that each following tome seems to get heavier. That is partly why I hadn’t read a ‘Lynley Mystery’ (as the tv-adaptions are called) for a long time — since 2007! But when I had a short vacation last month I was really eager to meet my old ‘friends’ again and I took the first of 3 unread Georges of the shelf: With No One As Witness. I enjoyed it very much! And the ending is REALLY exciting!

Cover What Came Before He Shot HerSo I treated myself and immediately grabbed the next one: What Came Before He Shot Her. I had a good excuse in that the title fits nicely in the ‘What’s in a namereading challenge I joined. At least I think so ;) I’m filing it under the ‘Medical Condition category’…

Beware of spoilers in the rest of this post!

Oooooow how disappointed I was on discovering about 50 pages into the book that there was not going to be a murdercase to begin with! Worse, it appeared this book was not a mystery at all but a psychological novel about people I hardly knew! Whilst I was dying to hear (no pun intended) if Lynley would come back to work and how Havers and Nakata would cope with everything going on.

Thankfully the story grabbed me anyway around page 100. I usually stop at this point if a book still doesn’t engage me. But What Came Before He Shot Her became the gripping telling of three Campbell children of mixed race: Joel, Ness and Toby, who come to live with their aunt in a poor, black neighbourhood in London. Precocious adolescent Ness is a girl on the loose, detached and estranged from her brothers. Joel, being 12 year old and still a child himself, is required to take care of their younger brother Toby, who is a bit ‘behind’ mentally and depends on the guidance and protection of his brother to survive in the outside world.

On the bus even in a place like London, [..] the Campbell children still garnered looks, each for a reason peculiar to the individual. In Toby it was the great bald patches across his head, where his half-grown hair was wispy and far too thin for a seven-year-old boy, as well as the life ring, which took up too much space and from which he resolutely refused to be parted even so much as to remove it from his waist and “bleeding hold it in front of you, for God’s sake,” as Ness demanded. In Ness herself, it was the unnatural darkness of her skin, obviously enhanced by make-up, as if she were trying to be more of what she only partially was. Had she shed her jacket, it would also have been the rest of the clothing beyond her jeans: the sequined top that left her midriff bare and put her voluptuous breasts on display. And in Joel it was, and would always be, his face covered by the tea-cake-size splotches that could never be called freckles but were instead a physical expression of the ethnic and racial battle that his blood had gone through from the moment of his conception.

What Came Before He Shot Her is a compelling but depressing story. All through the book I kept hoping that the protagonist and his family would live happily ever after. Against better judgment I stayed optimistic that we would get to know about the family “after he shot her”. But the harder Joel tried to fix things, the deeper they all got in trouble. I felt sooo sorry for him; it is SO unfair! I kept wanting to give ‘m a good shaking and tell those people to C O M M U N I C A T E. But in their troublesome lives the Campbell children have learnt to stick together through thick and thin, and keep their family secrets to themselves. Disastrous.

The author has proven she can write other stories than mysteries. But I am grateful the next book in row is a real detective story again. Alas, after 1500+ pages and a month of reading Elizabeth George, it is time to start something else. On top of Mt. TBR is The Mapmaker’s Wife, by Robert Whitaker (also fitting the What’s in a name challenge), a Bookcrossing bookring. But I am still keeping my hopes up that in Careless In Red, the last George on TBR, all will end well for Joel and his siblings… I am a cotton ball. Meaning I’m a sentimental person — and getting softer with the years ;) What is the correct English expression?

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!

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