Continuing the series, Murder in Exotic Places.
The digital image below hardly does justice to the exquisite jacket on Keigo Higashino’s most recent murder mystery, Malice. I paid top dollar for the hardcover because it was just so beautiful. Loved the book, too, a murder mystery set in modern-day Japan.
I liked Malice enough that I also read The Devotion of Suspect X, a major bestseller in Japan a couple of years ago. And WOW!!! The best, most ingenious murder plot EVER. Sorry to shout, but seriously, this plot is one in a million. Move over, Agatha. Really. What a murder!
Shinju, by Laura Joh Rowland, is first in a series of more than a dozen detective mystery/thrillers set in 17th century Japan, in the days of Samurai and the corrupt, cutthroat, intrigue-ridden court of the Shogun Tokugawa. Rowland’s detective, Sano Ichiro, is one of the most admirable and lovable protagonists ever. Shinju, about an apparent ritual suicide between two star-crossed lovers, was almost too unbearably suspenseful for me!
I cut my teeth as a mystery lover on the Tales of Ooka, Solomon in Kimono. The books I read as a child in the 1950s, by IG Edmonds, are hard-to-find collector’s items now. The character of the wise Judge Ooka is based on a real 17th century magistrate, Ooka Tadasuke, who rose to fame and high position with his famously wise and fair administration of justice as well as his incorruptible character.
A favorite Ooka story: the case of the stolen smell. A rich, miserly restaurant owner complains that a poor student is stealing the smell of his food. He wants to be paid! Ooka hears the case and demands that the student produce all the money he has. It’s only a couple of coins. Ooka tells him to drop the money from one hand to the other, then rules that the merchant has been paid for the smell of his food by the sound of clinking coins.
Shamini Flint is an attorney who lives in Singapore and has traveled extensively in Asia. Her mysteries are set in India, China, Singapore, Bali and Malaysia. I loved them all! I will suggest starting (as I did) with the one set in China: A Calamitous Chinese Killing.
Speaking of China, and if you like characters based on real-life historical figures, Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee series is a must-read. Dee was a seventh century Chinese magistrate (read about him in Wikipedia). Here is the Amazon list of the Judge Dee books.
The Celebrated Cases Of Dee Goong An is an honest-to-goodness 18th century Chinese detective novel based on Dee’s legendary career. The book was translated by Van Gulik (who was quite the Sinologist). His foreword about early Chinese detective fiction is fascinating. Many features of these books (the supernatural elements, the torture, their length) make them a tough read for the modern and/or Western reader. And in fact, what I recommend is that you read Van Gulik’s own Judge Dee novels first, rather than this one.
I’ll close with a cheat and a post-script. The cheat: Charlie Chan! A cheat because the books are not set in China, and Earl Derr Biggers had nothing to do with China. The House Without a Key is set in Hawaii, but at least Charlie is Chinese. Charlie Chan is not as well known as he once was (read about the books and films). I say he’s due for a revival.
Finally, a postscript to last month’s Murder in Africa. At the time, I had just picked up a novella by Kwei Quartey. When I finished that I tried his Darko Dawson series, and I must add it to the Murder in Africa list—love this series! The first book is Wife of the Gods. I guarantee that you will go looking for the rest of the series after you finish it. Dr. Quartey, I am anxiously awaiting the next book!
For more murder in the far east:
- Top Ten Asian Crime Novels, list by Catherine Sampson.
- Japanese Crime Fiction: Five of the Best
- Chinese Crime Novels: Amazon
Elizabeth Buhmann is author of Lay Death at Her Door, and Amazon Top 100 Bestselling mystery about an old murder that comes unsolved when the man who was convicted for it is exonerated.