Whenever possible, reading forms a large part of my day. And I admit to being a throwback to the “age of paper”. I always have an actual, printed book with me. Though it would be more convenient – and easier on my back muscles when toting books while traveling – I still haven’t made that leap to e-books.
Often, I’ll do my “heavy” reading at night, and venture out during the day with a small book that slips conveniently into my shoulder bag. But with Jonelle Patrick’s mystery Nightshade (and its subsequent sequels), I found that I just couldn’t put it down. My shoulder muscles are still wailing at me but they’ll get over it – some books are just a “must read”.
Nightshade is the first book in a series that introduces us to Kenji Nakamura, a police detective in the nondescript Tokyo neighborhood of Komagome. Some of you may be reaching for your maps at that mention. No, Komagome doesn’t figure into most tourist itineraries (though it is close to the lovely Nezu Shrine). It’s an everyday neighborhood well away from the glitz of, say, Shibuya or ritzy Aoyama.
Nor do tourists often come across the issues that Nightshade deals with – arranged marriage, assisted suicide, hostess clubs, and the fairly rare occurrence of murder in Japan. But Kenji sifts through the above with the diligence of a young if slightly jaded career civil servant, assisted in some ways by his old school friend and crush Yumi Hata. Though Yumi’s no detective herself, her relationship with the victim in Nightshade sets up the duo’s partnership, which continues throughout the series.
Yumi, for her part, is entering into an arranged marriage with the son of one of Tokyo’s most prominent families, thus sparking the romantic tension in the novel. Kenji is still a bit hung up on the girl he’s known since elementary school, when Yumi joined his class as a “returnee”. It’s a trait that gives her character a bit more leeway in some of her actions, though Yumi does walk a fine line between “typical” Japanese and emboldened modern woman.
Nightshade weaves its way from the murder of Yumi’s friend, Rika, to the underground clubs she used to frequent to the high-end social scene inhabited by Yumi’s new soon-to-be-inlaws. Add in suicide pacts, chat rooms, post mortem reports, love hotels and the All-Kanto kanji champion and the ingredients are there for an intriguing read. Luckily, the “whodunit” delivers and the main mystery is tied up without gaping holes. Patrick teases just enough discontent with her character’s personal endings to foreshadow the upcoming stories, for those who want to read on. (You likely will. 🙂 )
I admit to having a weakness for police procedurals and mystery books. Patrick’s books fit neatly into this category so I was naturally drawn to them in the first place. But the stories are well-paced, not easily predictable, and benefit from having good character development. Japanese culture – and subculture – isn’t sugar-coated or glorified, nor is it dragged through the mud. Readers who have little familiarity with Japanese culture in general will appreciate the mystery and likely learn a lot of cultural tidbits. Those with a greater understanding will feel like someone is finally telling a story that really “fits” modern Japan.
Before I’d even finished Nightshade, I’d gone online to order the next two books in the series – Fallen Angel and Idolmaker. I’ve since finished those and since Idolmaker sets up a continuation into Painted Doll, it looks like I have another order coming up. Painted Doll sets up an even more personal case for Kenji, as new details about the death of his mother are brought to life. Next month is rainy season in Japan and I can tell you now, that’s the first book on my list to dig into as the weather drives me inside.
For more info on the books and on Jonelle Patrick herself, check out her blog Only in Japan.