Sujata Massey

Rei Shimura - Japanese-American woman and Antiques Dealer,
Tokyo, Japan


"The Pearl Diver"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer NOV 7, 2004)

The world wasn’t perfect, she thought as she closed her eyes and returned the kiss. But now, she was no longer the girl-friend, on the outside. She was the wife. And if she used her newfound powers, she could find a way to make those men go away.

The Pearl Diver by Sujata Massey

Rei Shimura is slowly adjusting to life in Washington DC with her fiance, Attorney Hugh Glendinning. She gets a call from her cousin Kendall, who she used to be close to but now finds her an entirely different creature from the girl she used to exchange confidences with. Kendall asks her to lunch and she goes reluctantly. There she meets Harp Snowden, who’s convinced Kendall to raise money to fuel his political aspirations. She also meets Marshall Zanger and Jiro Takeda, and ends up being hired to decorate the partners' newest restaurant venture. Kendall gets kidnapped from the restuarant opening night, leading Rei to ask questions about Kendall’s husband.

But that’s not the main story...the main tale involves the restaurant’s arrogant and elegant hostess, who, impressed by how well Rei handled Kendall’s disappearance, wants her to solve another one...the disappearance of her mother. Andrea, the daughter of a Japanese war bride, can’t believe that her mother would just abandon her. Her father quickly remarried and placed the little girl in foster care, and refuses to speak at all about the past. As the two, with the help of Rei’s adorable Aunt Norie, who has come to help Rei prepare for the wedding, track down clues and letters, it soon becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Andrea to find her mother...or to know what happened just before she disappeared.

Each of the books in this series shows an angle of the Japanese experience, allowing us to learn more about this beautiful culture while exposing truths about all of us. In this case, we see the world of the war bride...a lot of young Japanese women married American solders and came to America. The transition must have been horrible, and many marriages didn’t survive. The picture we get of Sadako as we read letters to a family that disowned her is of a smart woman, used to being her own self, now isolated from everything and everyone, with nothing but a little girl to anchor her. A husband who, I feel especially from the prologue, loved his Japanese bride, but now, with stresses from some unknown and mysterious men and pressures from the girl he left behind and was supposed to marry, is not strong enough to deal, or to help her transition. Even though there was a group of Japanese Americans dedicated to helping newcomers to this land, she really wasn’t able to seek help.

Sadako’s problems play a sort of comparison against Rei. She, too, has been forcibly separated from her own land, but not by love...events in a previous book have exiled her from Japan, and while she grew up in California and is only half Japanese, she feels like she’s lost her homeland and a bit of her identity. Her relationship with Hugh is under its own pressure -- Aunt Norie is a very proper Japanese lady, and for Rei to be living, unmarried, with a man would be a grave embarrassment to her, so the couple are pretending Hugh lives somewhere else, plus, a sad, personal tragedy makes things look very grim for a couple that long time readers of the series have been cheering on. When they got engaged in the last book, I was thrilled...but that just shows that a engagement ring does not, necessarily, a happy ending make, even in books.

Massey cleverly weaves the various aspects of the mystery together, and as she concules certain things, you slowly realize that the ending to the story is not at all what you think. Filled with the usual and interesting aspects of Japanese and American culture, we also get a look into the restaurant world. All these aspects make for an exciting mystery and a very full reading experience.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 27 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Pearl Diver at Harper Collins

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"The Samurai's Daughter"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer MAY 15, 2003)

"I had an antipathy to weapons. In my opinion, a rice pot that had served the family through lean and lavish times was the kind of object worthy of family worship. I'd even revere a quilt patched together from old white and blue robes called yukata; my father had told me about such a quilt that his great-grandmother had made, and that he and his brother had slept under for many years, until it finally wore out. That was the problem, exactly: Crockery broke, and fabric frayed. The delicate things that I cared about perished, while the hard things like swords survived."

The Samurai's Daugther by Sujata Massey

Rei Shimura has returned to San Francisco to visit her family for the holidays...she's there not only to celebrate the season with her family, but also to do research on family history. She loves history, and thinks that writing a small book about the Shumuras will be interesting, especially in light of some of the beautiful artifacts, such as the family sword. It also promises to be a special holiday, business has brought her on-again, off-again beloved Hugh Glendinning to town, and he has promised her a very special Christmas present -- which turns out to be an engagement ring.

Read excerptHugh has more good news...the law firm that he works for in Washington, D.C. wants to send him back to Tokyo, to help a firm they've joined with work on a very important case. They wish to sue certain companies who have benefited from slave labor during War World II. This suit is designed to gain reparations for "comfort women" Philippine women who were forced into brothels to entertain the solders based there. It doesn't take long for trouble to start brewing...there are several break-ins, all seeming to be interested in the contents of Hugh's briefcase. One of the clients dies of mysterious causes, and a young student rooming with Rei's parents disappears. These troubles even follow them back to Japan, and Rei is determined to discover exactly what is happening, even as her family history project shows her that perhaps her family ties to the war are not quite as innocent as she had unimagined.

Just as in the previous books, Rei proves herself to be more than a match for any challenge. I liked seeing her in the two settings...at home with her parents, and back in Japan, because we get to compare her attitude against the background of these places. In some ways, being American born and bred, she seems to fit in better in California...it is hard for her to act noticeably outrageous in San Francisco, yet she definitely has a Japanese soul. The wonderfully rich cultural background continues to make this series extra special, for with Rei as a guide to this land we see and understand the culture with wonderful clarity.

One of the things that makes this mystery in particular is the concentration on war reparations. This is for many reasons...for one, it makes for a tricky story...are the crimes being commented by companies unwilling to follow the precedent set by the Germans, unwilling to admit they were wrong? Or is it by someone using this suit as a cover to gain access to the rumored cache of gold hidden in the Philippines? It also makes Rei consider things more deeply...the idea of the Shimura history was to research their treasures, using her expertise as an Antique dealer to find out more things about her family's past...her father, a man who has long abandoned his Japanese life to embrace the American dream, with a beautiful house, wonderful psychology practice and devoted wife seems less than thrilled about the idea. In fact, he seems less than thrilled about Hugh's project...and these things cause interesting tensions between her and the family. Also, her own confusion about her feelings about her discovery creates some interesting thoughts on family ties and loyalty...made even more important by the fact that Japan is so steeped in tradition and the importance of these things.

The Rei Shimura mysteries have a lot to offer to the reader. The relationships between her and her leading man is sexy, tense and romantic (I adore Hugh...he's the right combination of suave and funny...and who can resist that he is a Scot?) and the relationships between her two sets of families...her parents in American, her Aunt and Uncle in Japan are interesting cultural contrasts. The main stories are always plot twisters: the true intentions of the antagonists are always hard to guess. Some things that happen in this book to Rei promise to create challenges in future books, and I'm sure she'll deal with them with the same honesty and style she's dealt with challenges that have risen in these past six books.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 18 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Samurai's Daughter at MostlyFiction.com

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"The Salaryman's Wife"

(Reviewed by Cindy Lynn Speer MAY, 15 2003)

"What had looked like bark was a frozen length of human hair. And the pale, trailing branch was a slender forearm, hair shaved off in the super feminine manner of many Japanese women. The last thing I took in before my feet gave out were glossy scarlet fingernails, one of them broken. A condition Setsuko Nakamura would not have tolerated, had she been alive."

The Salaryman's Wife by Sujata Massey

In this first novel in the series, Rei Shimura decides that the best way to spend the New Year is in the castle town of Shiroyama; after all, her passion and her talent lays towards antiques, and she figures the shops and museums will offer plenty of distraction. Distraction is what she gets, all right...she's not there for much more than a day when she discovers the dead body of Setsuko Nakamara, the beautiful wife of a Salaryman, or business man. Being Japanese-American, she is conveniently on scene for the tough as iron Captain Okuhara, and acts as translator. Further distraction is provided by the incredibly sexy Hugh Glendinning. A Scottish lawyer working for Sendai, the same company that Nakamura works for; he becomes a likely suspect in the murder...even as Rei tries to fight the strong attraction she feels for him.

Rei is not conventional...she is often, in her own words, "Too Japanese," meaning too polite, too willing to stick with the normal conventions of society...but that's on the surface. She is also willing to do anything to help the people she cares about, and soon she finds herself crashing funeral parties in disguise, breaking into houses dressed as a maid and protecting Mariko, who moonlights as a waitress at a hostess bar and who may have strong connections to Setsuko's past. These connections seem to have made Mariko a target for a killer. Rei takes everything in stride, even when she becomes the target of paparazzi cameras, enamored of the fact that she might be a murderer's mistress. It's not a surprise; Rei is determined to take the hard road in life. She could be living in luxury in America with her parents, who would give anything to have her back, but she loves Japan, feeling a sense of connection and love with her new homeland. She has a horrible paying job teaching English, a crappy apartment she shares with her best friend Richard, but she's happy.

The fact that she's Japanese American is really cool for us who do not have the honor of having any experience living in Japan. This is because she translates for us...an outsider who almost fits in explaining things to us, noticing things that perhaps a native would not think worthy of attention. She makes the setting of Japan stand out; her descriptions to us are more colorful, more easily visualized. There are tons of clues about the culture in context...from references to the proper way for a woman to act, to corporate politics. I am also intrigued by the honesty...Massey pulls no punches, and although we see the beauty of the place, we also see how hard it is for a gaijin to make her way in this world. Which, I guess, is another mark of Rei's strength. Also, we see clearly how stigmas...her worry over the possibility of prosecution causes her to resign from her job...seem to be even worse in this strict society.
Massey does a spectacular job bringing Japan to life...from the way the people talk, to the careful, almost ceremonial politeness with which they treat each other, I felt as if I had gone on a journey. This makes sense...the author herself moved to Japan and taught English, and so in some ways I imagine that Ms. Massey has poured many of her experiences straight on the paper, showing that true experience often adds magic to fiction.

I just hope she didn't find any bodies in the snow.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 61 reviews

 



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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)

 

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About the Author:

Sujata MasseySujata Massey was born in 1964 in Sussex, England to a father from India and a mother from Germany who met while studying in England. Her family emigrated to the United States when she was five and she grew up in Philadelphia, Berkeley and St. Paul, with many return trips to Europe and Asia. Essentially she is a "passport bearing citizen of the United Kingdom who has held and American green card since the age of two."

She graduated from John Hopkins University in 1986 and began her career as a newspaper journalist at the Baltimore Evening Sun. She met her husband, a Navy medical officer, during that time and they moved to Japan in 1991. During the two years there she taught English, studied Japanese and wrote fiction. After their return to Baltimore, she won a grant for unpublished writers from Malice Domestic Limited and was able to finish her manuscript.

In December 1998, Sujata and her husband Tony adopted a baby daughter, Pia, who was born in South India. They live in Baltimore, Maryland.

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