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Friday, 19 December 2014

'Ghost Month' by Ed Lin

Published by Soho Crime,
4 September 2014.
ISBN 978-1-61695-326-3

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.

I would certainly agree that Taiwanese people are friendly and very fond of food, I think there is a Cantonese proverb about the Cantonese eating all of a pig except its squeak, the fantastically mixed population of Taiwanese probably eat that too!  The title has significance as ghost month figures in traditional beliefs.  For our protagonist his beliefs or lack of them are at war with Taiwanese superstitions around the ghosts of the dead.

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

Ed Lin has written a crime series set in 1970s Manhattan Chinatown. 

Ed Lin, a native New Yorker of Taiwanese and Chinese descent, is the first author to win three Asian American Literary Awards and is an all-around standup kinda guy. Waylaid and This Is a Bust were both published by Kaya Press in 2002 and 2007, respectively, and were widely praised. Both books also won Members’ Choice Awards in the Asian American Literary Awards. His third book, Snakes Can’t Run, was published by Minotaur Books in April 2010; it was loved by many and also won an Asian American Literary Award. One Red Bastard was published by Minotaur in April 2012. His latest book, Ghost Month, a Taipei-based mystery, was published by Soho Crime in July 2014. Lin lives in Brooklyn with his wife, actress Cindy Cheung, and son.

Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.

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