Saturday, July 16, 2022

New Tapei Night Market Mystery from Ed Lin, DEATH DOESN'T FORGET

After a four-year wait, Ed Lin is back with the fourth in his humorous and atmospheric "Taipei Night Market" mystery series. Drenched in delicious details of Taiwan food and food preparation, for Jing-nan's popular stall in Taipei's tourist-dependent Night Market, DEATH DOESN'T FORGET opens with a sweepstakes win for a minor thief named Boxer. When Boxer behaves (predictably) stupidly with the money he's won (200,000 New Taiwan dollars in cash (about US $670), Jing-nan gets roped in -- because Boxer is the boyfriend of the mother of Jing-nan's girlfriend (almost his fiancée), and Boxer's girlfriend Siu-lien wants to know where he's gone to and what he'd done with the money they were supposed to be sharing.

But no good deed goes unpunished, as they say. Jing-nan sets his own needs briefly aside to locate and check on Boxer, who's suffering a painful morning after. Not long afterward, Boxer is murdered ... and police captain Huang, who'd love to see Jing-nan suffer, tries to pin the murder on the hard-working entrepreneur.

Jing-nan shifted his stance as he tried to read Captain Huang's poker face. At the mention of murder both Frankie and Dwayne [Jing-nan's assistants] laid aside their [cooking] instruments and crossed their arms. The line of 10 people at Unknown Pleasures turned to the right to see what exactly was happening. Captain Huang recognized that these tourists understood only rudimentary Mandarin, so to help them out, he pointed at Jing-nan and said in English, "That man is a murderer!" They gasped.

Though the frame doesn't stick, it's quickly clear that Jing-nan's life and business can't be reclaimed until the crime is solved. That's the entry for a tangled plot of motives and opportunities flying around like trapeze artists, swinging past each other in midair, and incidentally featuring several persons of aboriginal descent and a public circus performance.

This mystery has the same big pluses and small minus as the earlier ones by Ed Lin: The plot is lively, the characters unusual and well motivated, and the scenes are intriguing and unusual. On the other hand, the language reads like a translation (which it isn't), perhaps an effort by Lin to add more Taiwanese feel to his storytelling. It may not bother readers who are more interested in how the threads tangle and untangle (and less in the mouth feel, so to speak).

For any shelf of Taiwan or international crime fiction, Ed Lin's books are a must. They hold up to re-reading, too. (Actually, to save on decision making, just collect all of Soho Crime's international mysteries.) Special treats are moments like Jing-nan's reply to Captain Huang, who declines to arrest him (based on evidence): "Well, to hell with that, then. I'm staying here. I have a business to run."

 PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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