Review: Taipei food stall owner Jing-nan learns that his ex-girlfriend Zheng-lian — Jenny — who he thought was still in the US studying at a university in New York, has been murdered, and is devastated by the news, in Ghost Month, a stand-alone crime novel by Ed Lin.
Jing-nan and Julia had been childhood friends, and traveled to the US together to pursue a better life. But when Jing-nan's father died, he had to return to Taiwan to take over the business; his father was deeply in debt and it was Jing-nan's obligation to continue to make payments on the loan … even though he, too, would be long dead before it was ever paid off. And he simply lost track of Julia in the meantime. So it comes as a complete surprise to hear that Julia was not only back in Taiwan, too, but working as a betel-nut beauty, no better than a prostitute to the men, who need to constantly feed their habit. How could this have happened? The police aren't interested in solving the crime, which is closed as random violence. Jing-nan goes to visit Julia's parents, who ask him to please try to find whoever killed their daughter. Talk to her friends, seek out where she was staying, do anything he can to bring closure to this senseless tragedy.
Ghost Month is an odd crime novel in which the mystery of who killed Jenny and why is completely secondary to a running commentary from Jing-nan on all things Taiwanese. (Despite its supernatural-sounding title, there is nothing of the sort in the book. The title refers to "the entire seventh month of the year, when everybody on the island spends nearly five weeks indulging every crazy belief they hold about the spirit world.") Jing-nan admits early on that even though they grew up together and had made plans to spend their lives together, he hadn't seen her in over seven years and really didn't know her. Much of the early part of the book is not so much Jing-nan regretting losing Jenny as it is coming to terms with his own situation in Taiwan, indebted for life working a job he hates. And while the plot does inch forward, there are so many side trips and tangential subplots that it often seems like it isn't moving at all. One perseveres, however, believing that certainly at some point something has to happen. But not so. None of the characters are all that interesting or engaging, and while the seemingly endless stream of Taiwanese trivia can be interesting, it's not enough to overcome how really tedious reading this book can be.
Acknowledgment: Soho Press provided an ARC of Ghost Month for this review.
Review Copyright © 2014 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Ghost Month: Taipei, Taiwan
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Ghost Month by Ed Lin
Publisher: Soho Crime
Publication Date: July 2014
List Price: $26.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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