Sujata Massey

Sujata Massey
Zen Attitude 

Sujata Massey’s books are the next best thing to a ticket to Tokyo. That’s where Rei Shimura lives, dealing in antiques and, unintentionally, in dead bodies. Born to a Japanese father and an American mother, she half belongs here and half doesn’t: She looks Japanese, but struggles to read kanji like any gaijin (outsider). Ties to her extended family both comfort and irritate Rei, who is accustomed to the looser social structure in America.

In Zen Attitude, the second book in this series, Rei finds her apartment ransacked and her life threatened after she buys a 19th-century chest of drawers for a client. Trying to learn the chest’s significance takes her to the coastal town of Kamakura, where she shelters in a deserted teahouse and encounters a sinister monk. Calligraphy scrolls, Zen archery, and the Tanabata festival all figure in the plot—as do the more modern elements of illegal phone cards and marijuana-laced brownies.

Massey—herself half Indian—is an acute observer of Japanese social phenomena, such as the ability of dozing commuters to wake at the precise moment their stop is reached. The silver-bells voice of an “office lady” (which seems to be a requisite for the job) causes Rei to remark, “I sounded like a bear in comparison” (The Salaryman’s Wife). And Massey deftly skewers the expectation prevalent among Western males that Oriental women will be at once sexually exotic and personally submissive.

You come away from these books with a strong sense of what makes Japan so fascinating and frustrating for Westerners, culturally rich but with disturbing undercurrents.

Oh—and they’re darn good mysteries.

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