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From the beginning, I suspected that Nana Mihori’s tansu would cost too much.
The Japanese antiques market is brutal. There are hardly any good pieces left anywhere, so even if you have the cash, the chances of finding a dream piece are slender. Going into the assignment, I expected trouble. Still, I never expected that a chest of drawers could cost me almost everything I owned.
The first thing I lost was a vacation.
from: Zen Attitude
A Girl causing Trouble
Rei Shimura is 27 years old, when she gets involved in a murder affair for the first time. During the next three years or so she consistently has to deal with murder cases and related crime. It’s not that she is a detective inspector working for the police – or maybe a private investigator: she is an art historian specialized in Japanese art. However, her professional jumping about make sure that she in all probability always gets in trouble.
Rei was raised in San Francisco by well-off parents, her father a Japanese and her mother all-American. She speaks Japanese fluently with only a slight accent – unfortunately reading and writing has never been her passion; she knows only some essential kanji. She studied art history, specializing in the field of Japanese art, at Berkeley and got her MA. Her parents hope – even now -that she’ll return soon to work on her PhD … but Rei set off to Tokyo to work at a museum. Unfortunately no institution in Japan is interested in an American art historian with almost no knowledge in reading and writing. The fact that she is American seems to be as important and obstructive as her language problem.
So she has to choose between starting a career as hostess in entertainment of salarymen after their long job hours or to become an English teacher. She opts for the last, however, her Japanese looks … Japanese seem to prefer young blonde all-American English teachers. Income is low and Rei shares a small apartment in a shady neighborhood with a Canadian gay. Nevertheless she loves Japan.
Some years later … Rei decides to do a New Year holiday trip to a famous spot with a temple and lots of history. She even books a room in a small traditional hotel. Guess what happens?
In the hotel there are some guests, an illustrious group: a newly wed couple, another rich couple, the husband from an important company while his wife seems to be a spoilt beauty, a Scottish lawyer also working for this Japanese company accompanied by his male assistant, an elderly American tourist (female) travelling the world … Next morning when Rei starts walking in the snow covered garden she stumbles across the naked body of the spoilt wife.
So far it looks like a classic murder mystery scene. Instead of a lovely country house in the Cotswolds or at the coast of any New England state we find ourselves in rural Japan. The police officers seem helpless opting for an accident. Rei won’t believe it and starts muckraking even after returned to Tokyo. She discovers that it is murder and that the personal lives of all the guests at the traditional hotel are rather interesting. Of course the Scottish lawyer and Rei get closer even if he is a suspect suddenly. At the end all is fine and Rei and her lover ride together into the sunset.
Suddenly Rei shares a luxury apartment with her lawyer lover and is able to start her antiques dealing business. However, rather soon there is trouble with faked Japanese antiques and another corpse surfaces. Rei starts investigating – again.
… and there is the next case.
… and there is the split between her and her lawyer friend who is replaced by a new lover – a story which repeats itself. (All of Rei’s lovers are well-off …) The affair with the lawyer is some sort of on-off affair during the next years.
Finally Rei shares her time between Japan and the USA, however, crime doesn’t stop. She even becomes some kind of spy working for the US government in Japan. (… and finally she gets married!)
The Japanese background of all novels is exotic and interesting. Even a classic county house setting gets exciting when a strange culture rules the game. This feeling doesn’t vanish when Rei acts in the US on behalf of Japanese clients …
Rei Shimura is another real asset of the series. She is young – well: she acts as if a teenager most of the time and causes trouble for herself as well as for anybody around her. As soon as she has an idea what might have happened to result in crime resp. murder she dashes forward and tries to unravel the chaos – sometimes rather enlarging the chaos. She likes to dress up as whoever, maybe a maid, and to appear in homes without invitation to sneak and dig around. Breaking into a house – why not? Hiding some evidence – why not? Rei is inventive when sleuthing. The collateral damage around her adventures – who cares?
During each of her adventures Rei tends to go too far, to run into risks which might be avoided with a little more caution at the beginning. Rei suffers a lot of physical damage, severe damage, but it doesn’t restrain her for the future. She is some sort of fearless person … and stays fearless (and naive). (Even in her last adventure she doesn’t hesitate to run to Japan into the region damaged by earthquake and following tsunami to look for a friend and try to save him amid all the havoc.) So – the risk of death is her quiet companion all the time.
Her antiques dealing business is modest. Without the help of her rich lovers her livelihood might be rather poor. Nevertheless she always aims at independence trying to live on her own funds which leads to stress in her relationships and finally separation.
In short, Rei is interesting and full of nosiness, her life is interesting and easygoing, dangerous and funny making each murder mystery a special adventure of his own.