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Saturday, 25 July 2020

‘Undercover Geisha’ by Judith Cranswick

Published July 2020.
Kindle Format.
In this excellent series, set in exotic locations, the narrating character is Harry, a young man who was brought up in Norfolk by his gentle, biddable mother and two of her older sisters, both of whom have rigid views about how to behave. Harry has spent most of his life trying to meet his old-fashioned aunts’ rigid expectations, even becoming an accountant because his Aunt Maud decided it was a sensible career. After he lost his employment in a bank, Harry found it impossible to find another well-paying job. He lost all his self-esteem, had to sell most of his treasured possessions and was about to lose his flat, but then his Aunt Jessica came to his rescue. Aunt Jessica is very different to her sisters, a career woman who has spent all of her life in exciting cultural activities. Recently she has been delivering talks on history, art and archaeology to people on luxury tours to exotic locations and she invited Harry to join her as her assistant on a trip to Morocco.

On their return from Morocco, Harry remained living with Aunt Jessica, helping to get her slides ready for her next tour to Japan. Although Harry hopes that he has made himself useful, when he returns home to visit his mother, his Aunt Maud again destroys his self-confidence by accusing him of sponging on Aunt Jessica. Harry knows that he will need to find permanent employment as soon as they return from Japan.

The tour group mainly consists of pleasant middle-aged couples but there are a few younger people, including one young man, Josh, and two sisters, Lucy and Joanna. The younger people tend to spend time together but Harry thinks that Josh is arrogant and, as Harry is gay, he has no interest in the two girls, and he prefers to spend his time with Aunt Jessica.

Japan is an eclectic mixture of the modern and the traditional and, on the first evening, the group is taken to a kaiseki meal at an exclusive tea house where they are entertained by a young trainee geisha, Excellent Jewel. After the meal, Harry is returning from the toilet when he hears the sound of a scuffle and discovers another young geisha being attacked by a man. Before Harry can intervene, the man stabs the girl and escapes. As she is dying the girl confuses Harry with somebody she had expected to meet. She calls Harry the Fox and, before she dies in his arms, she tells him to take ‘it’ only to the White Tiger and mentions a shrine; she also warns him that the Water Dragon is dangerous. This makes no sense to Harry but later, when he removes his blood-stained shirt, he finds a key in his breast pocket.

Harry and Aunt Jessica are not sure whether they can trust the police but they feel it is their duty to finish the mission of the geisha, Jewel of Happiness, and find the White Tiger and pass on the key. Internet research reveals that the Fox, White Tiger and Water Dragon are characters from Japanese mythology, and soon it becomes clear that Harry and Aunt Jessica are facing a dangerous, corrupt and powerful enemy. Harry is determined to see justice done, even though he is sure that he is being followed and it seems probable that one of the criminals is part of the tour group. As Harry persists, more violence follows and his quest for the truth places him in mortal danger.

Undercover Geisha is the second book in the series featuring Aunt Jessica and Harry. It is an unusual style of cosy crime novel because the narrator is a young man. Both Harry and Aunt Jessica are likeable characters. Aunt Jessica is an intelligent, professional woman, experienced in foreign travel and very supportive to her nephew, whom she is determined to empower. In this she is being successful. Although Harry is still very nervous and uncertain about his own abilities, he is growing more confident and shows great courage when he is determined to discover the murderer. One of the most delightful features about this author’s series featuring foreign places are the wonderful descriptions of these places and their customs. This book, which takes the reader on a tour of Japan is especially successful in bringing the country and culture to life. With engaging characters, an interesting plot and magnificent locations, this is a very enjoyable read, which I recommend.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Judith Cranswick was born and brought up in Norwich. She wrote her first novel (now languishing in the back of a drawer somewhere) when her two children were toddlers, but there was little time for writing when she returned to work teaching Geography in a large comprehensive. It was only after leaving her headship that she was able to take up writing again in earnest. Judith teaches Tai Chi, and line dancing, yoga, Pilates and Zumba. Her other hobbies include reading and travelling. She is lucky enough to be a cruise lecturer. You can read some of her adventures – the Ups and Downs of Being a Cruise Lecturer on her September 2014 blog on her home page. Judith’s latest book is Blood Flows South to read a review click on the title

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts click on the title.

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