Sunday, 26 July 2020

Local foods and a Japanese mystery on a hot, sultry day...

Last week we saw a few days’ relief from the oppressive humidity, but it’s back today with a vengeance.  After making a big pot of soup made with local field tomatoes (YUM!), and prepping all the delicious local fruits and berries we bought at our market, I went out for a short walk earlier while it was still cool-ish and am now settled down for a day of blogging and reading.  
Last week I read a much-anticipated English translation of The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda.  This novel, set some thirty years later, recounts the murder of seventeen people who were poisoned at a birthday party.  The victims included family members, guests and neighbours, and the effects of this tragic event have resonated in the seaside town for decades.  While the murderer confessed and killed himself and the police closed the case, questions still hang over the event as some wonder why this man, with seemingly no connection to the family, would commit such a heinous crime, and whether he acted alone or had an accomplice.  There was one survivor, the family’s blind daughter, Hisako, who grew up and moved to America.  The novel is set up as though someone is now re-interviewing people, in an unofficial capacity, who were somehow connected to the murders, the family, or other victims.  These include the housekeeper’s daughter, a neighbourhood friend of Hisako’s who grew up and wrote a book about the murders, and the retired detective who originally investigated the crime, among others.  Each account builds on the last as more and more details are revealed or recalled and the larger plot comes into focus, all leading to a conclusion that was thought-provoking, but ultimately left this reader feeling less-than-satisfied.  Don’t get me wrong, it was well-written and interesting, and the format of layering account upon account worked well, but there were many strands to the plot and I felt that they weren’t all resolved satisfactorily.  But I felt that I was meant to read this book at this time, as right at the very beginning the author writes, “It’s so hot, isn’t it?  This heat is so heavy.  It’s like the city is sealed up inside a steamer.  Heat like this is cruel, it robs you of energy, far more than you’d expect”  (p 14).  I read this as I was sitting in the backyard under a tree last weekend with my feet in a pail of cold water!  The fact of the oppressive heat is mentioned again and again throughout the book, and I could totally appreciate it.  Of the murders, the author writes, “Of course people were traumatized.  I mean, it was unthinkable that something like that should have happened in the very city where we lived!  The disruption to our lives was enormous.  Fear spread like wildfire, and we were all on edge, jumping at shadows.  It was as if we were in the grip of a feverish hysteria, brought on by living day after day in a state of high tension - something that normally you’d never experience in daily life.  In the memories of that time, I have a distinct sense of being part of a major event”  (p 21).  This could have been written about our time right now, with the COVID-19 pandemic we are dealing with.  So you can see how I could relate to certain aspects of the book.  I think that perhaps I was not really focusing on the novel as much as I needed to do to keep track of the various characters and their accounts (blame it on the pandemic!), which left the ending less than clear.  It was well-reviewed, so definitely give it a try if you want a detailed, complex, multi-layered mystery.  I want to close with this quote which perfectly captures the experience of books and reading:  “No matter how much information may be available, or how easy it is to come by, when all is said and done books can only be read by working one’s way through them, line by line, page by page” (p 230).
I also finished listening to Shari Lapena’s murder mystery, An Unwanted Guest, and it was exactly as I expected, neither great nor terrible, but rather “fair to middling”.  Eight guests arrive at an inn for a weekend away, but a snowstorm barricades them in and knocks out the power.  Gwen is hoping a weekend away will help her reconnect with her friend Riley, who is suffering from PTSD after her time as a journalist in Afghanistan.  Defence lawyer David is taking a weekend away to destress, although he’s not sure he believes that he needs this.  Lauren and Ian are away on a romantic weekend.  Matthew and Dana are, too, but theirs is also to destress as they prepare for their upcoming lavish wedding.  Beverly and Henry have a decades’ long marriage that seems to be on its last legs, and Beverly is hoping this weekend will reignite the passion and save them.  Candace is a writer who is using this weekend to be alone to work on her book.  James is the owner of the inn and he, along with his son, Bradley, must run the place as the weather has barred other staff from arriving to work.  Everyone seems prepared to make the best of things, but when one guest ends up dead, a death that they suspect was not accidental, fear begins to take hold.  During the course of the weekend, tensions rise, along with the body count, and secrets from each guest’s past are revealed until no one knows what to believe or who to trust.  Is the murderer among them? If so, which of them is the "unwanted guest"?  It was a bit like a cross between Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Stephen King’s The Shining, if you can imagine that.  I’m no fan of Lapena, considering her books to be just OK, but she is a Canadian writer so I like to think I’m doing my part as a Canadian reader by reading and/or listening to her books.  I just needed something easy and straightforward to listen to in this heat, and this book did not disappoint - it is at least as good as The Couple Next Door and A Stranger in the HouseNot great, but if you want a light, easy mystery, this might fit the bill.
That’s all for today.  Stay cool, stay safe, and pick up a good book!
Bye for now…
Julie

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