4 September 2014.
I found this a fascinating study of Taiwan. I had the good fortune to live there in the 1980s for two years and merely scratched the surface of life in a totally different society. Ed Lin describes Taiwan as "twenty-three million people, the same population as Texas, packed on an island slightly bigger than Maryland." The fascination of the book lies in the mindset of that mixture.
This is a clever mystery as Jing-nan tries to discover who was responsible for the murder of his high school sweetheart, Julia, in very murky circumstances. He thought she was at College in the USA not in the dodgy business of standing scantily clad by a major highway in Taiwan selling betel nuts to truck drivers. His own ambitions of a US education had ended when his parents died and he had to return home to run the family's food stand in a Taipei night market. Clearly shown here is the complex relationship between Taiwan and the USA.
In the intervals between his detective forays Jing-nan tells us an enormous amount about the complex society of Taiwan. The volatile mix of native Taiwanese, aboriginals and the descendants of the Mainlanders who crossed with Chiang Kai Shek in 1949 provides great opportunities for conflict; the 20th century history of Taiwan is exposed to our gaze by our shrewd but beleagered hero. He knows how things work in his patch and, within those limits, he is able to manipulate events. He is also surprised by peculiar and frightening happenings around him as some try to prevent him investigating Julia's death. The other characters are memorable too whether aiding or opposing Jing-nan. Developments surprised me as the story twisted and turned. A successful and satisfying conclusion was reached eventually.
A glossary is given to assist the reader's understanding.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer