For a guy who scoffs at the ghosts revered by so many of his fellow Taiwanese, droll everyman Jing-nan, a night-market food stall manager, ironically finds himself spending much of his time chasing one as he investigates the murder of his childhood sweetheart, Julia Huang, in this darkly comic thriller from Lin (One Red Bastard). Baffled by what the ambitious valedictorian of his Taipei high school class was doing as a skimpily clad “betel-nut beauty” hawking betel nut to truckers on a remote highway, much less by who would want to kill her, Jing-nan keeps asking questions, despite risks to his own safety. As he starts to uncover Julia’s explosive secrets with the help of their spunky former schoolmate, Nancy, Jing-nan finally faces the need to let go of the past in order to build a future, which one hopes will be revealed in a sequel.”
Jing-nan and his girlfriend Julia dreamt big, both of them leaving Taiwan for college in the United States and planning to reunite eventually. But life intervened. Tragically, both of Jing-nan’s parents died while he was in school; he is now back in Taiwan, working at the family’s food-stall business in Taipei. Then he learns that Julia—in Taiwan!—has been murdered. Despairing of the police force’s integrity, Jing-nan begins his own clumsy amateur investigation. Surprisingly, his passion for a postpunk band brings a new friend into his life. Further, his coworkers help him navigate the treacherous waters of Taiwanese gangsters, making it feasible for Jing-nan to succeed. Throughout, the significance of Taiwan’s “ghost month,” when spirits are said to mingle with the living, adds a layer of atmospheric tension. VERDICT: Taiwan’s traditions play a major role in Lin’s category-defying thriller that manages to be both funny and profound. Lin, who also pens the New York City–set Robert Chow procedural series (One Red Bastard
), writes with strong literary overtones and delivers a bang-up finale sure to keep readers engaged well past lights out.”
August is Ghost Month in Taiwan—a time to commemorate the dead: burn incense, visit shrines, commemorate ancestors, and avoid unlucky situations, large purchases, and bodies of water. Jing-nan, a young man who runs a food stand in a bustling Taipei night market, doesn’t consider himself superstitious, but this August is going to haunt him no matter what he does. He is shocked to the core when he learns his ex-girlfriend from high school has been murdered. She was found scantily clad and shot in the chest on the side of a highway where she was selling betel nuts to passing truck drivers. Beyond his harrowing grief for this lost love of his life, Jing-nan is also confused by the news: “betel nut beauties” are usually women in the most desperate of circumstances; the job is almost as taboo as prostitution. But Julia Huang had been the valedictorian of their high school, and the last time Jing-nan spoke to her she was enrolled in NYU’s honor program, far away in New York. The facts don’t add up. Julia’s parents don’t think so, either, and the police seem to have closed the case without asking any questions. The Huangs beg Jing-nan if he can do some investigating on his own—reconnect with old classmates, see if he can learn anything about Julia’s life that she might have kept from them. Reluctantly, he agrees, for Julia’s sake; but nothing can prepare him for what he learns, or how it will change his life.
A unique blend of tension, charm, tragedy and optimism, with characters you’ll love, and a setting so real you’ll think you’ve been there. Highly recommended.
Hold on for a breathtaking, multi-cultural ride. With some good luck and a few well-placed joss sticks, you just might survive.