The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey (Harper Books)

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I’m a product of a bi-cultural family. My father is American and my mother is Japanese. So whenever I come across a story that features a main character with the same ethnic background as me, I cannot help but be biased towards liking the story. Sujata Massey, a British national, who has taught English in Japan, has created such a character in Rei Shimura. The only difference between me and her character, Rei Shimura, is her father is Japanese and her mother is an American. 

This book is Massey’s debut novel and is also the first in a continuing series featuring Rei Shimura. It was published almost twenty years ago but the story does not seem dated at all. Set in a rural town of Japan at a traditional Japanese inn. A story full of interesting characters and even more interesting interaction among the characters, Japanese and foreign alike.

Rei is a twenty-seven year old woman who was raised in the U.S. and is currently living in Tokyo, Japan teaching English. She lives from paycheck to paycheck on her meager salary. Her parents want her to come back to the States and she does have a one-way ticket home that she can use at anytime, thanks to her parents. However, that is the one thing that Rei doesn’t want to think about. She loves her independence and going back home not only means giving up that independence but means she failed at living on her own.

Rei is also interested in Japanese antiques and travels to an old castle town called Shiroyama, located at the foot of  the Japanese Alps. It is there where she finds the dead body of a woman lying in the snow close to the inn she’s staying at. The local police arrive on the scene and ask Rei for her help in translating to question the other Western guests staying there. She discovers that the woman is the wife of a guest who is also a very influential businessman. The local police want to wrap up the case in a quick and timely manner.

Rei is not fully satisfied with the lack of effort in her mind, of the local police that she decides to continue to try to solve the mystery on her own. She does this by crashing a funeral, pretending to work as a hostess which endangers her life as well. Not only is she upsetting the police and the locals as well, she is now being chased by the police, the Yakuza, and a paparazzi! In the midst of all this activity, she also finds time for romance with a Scottish man named Hugh Glendinning. 

If you love mysteries and find the concept of cultural clashes interesting, then this is a good place to start. Rei Shimura tries to fit in as a Japanese but she cannot help but let her American side dominate as she clashes with conservative Japanese and is determined to solve the mystery to its conclusion. Exciting scenery, great character development. Once you have plunged yourself into the world of Rei Shimura, you can’t help but to want more and fortunately, other mysteries and adventures await in following novels. ~Ernie Hoyt