“Raining Men and Corpses: A Chinese Cozy Mystery”
By Anne R. Tan
Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2014
At 27, graduate student Raina Sun is not having a good go at things. She’s struggling financially after a loan to her now ex-boyfriend — who also happens to be her college adviser — turns into more of a gift. And in an effort to get her money back, Raina confronts him.
But things go from bad to worse for Raina when her ex turns up dead and she becomes the prime suspect in his murder.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the lead detective on the case is not only another one of Raina’s exes, but he’s THE ex — the only man she has ever loved. And although homicide detective Matthew Louie is investigating Raina, he’s also sending her signals that he may be interested in a reconciliation.
On top of all of this, Raina’s grandmother decides she’s had enough of the rest of the family in San Francisco. She travels two hours and moves into Raina’s tiny apartment in Gold Springs.
“Raining Men” has many of the staples of a cozy mystery: the amateur sleuth working to clear her name, the good-looking cop tasked with investigating said sleuth, and even a quirky elder who has no qualms about meddling and diving into the investigation. Despite the formulaic structure, the story is refreshing because the main characters are Asian American — in this case, of Chinese descent — who have not been relegated to minor roles.
Tan’s characters are multifaceted with flaws and layers. They are strong, but also struggle with issues around their families, romantic relationships, colleagues, and friends, just as most people do.
They just happen to be Asian American. Their cultural background may be a large part of their identities, but it’s not their entire identity and it doesn’t define their story — which can be a common theme in stories about people of color.
Tan’s story is a fun, clean mystery with a strong heroine and cast of characters who will have readers eager to read about their next crime-solving adventures.
“Inspector Singh Investigates: A Bali Conspiracy Most Foul”
By Shamini Flint
In this second installment of Flint’s Inspector Singh series, our title character finds himself shipped off to Bali to help local authorities with a terrorist bombing case. While Singh is a successful homicide detective with the Singapore police, his bosses are not big fans of his. They send him to help the Balinese police with their investigation, despite Singh having no experience in terrorism.
When police find a bullet hole in a skull fragment that shows a man was killed before the bomb went off, the overweight, chain-smoking detective is assigned the case and back in his wheelhouse.
He’s assisted by Bronwyn Taylor, an Australian cop whose overly optimistic disposition tends to grate on Singh’s nerves.
As the pair searches for the killer, they meet with the murdered man’s wife and the group of Western expatriates she has befriended since the couple moved to Bali from the United Kingdom.
What begins as just a murder case soon becomes more complicated than Singh and Bronwyn ever imagined.
In “A Bali Conspiracy,” Flint gives us a complex murder mystery. She also gives readers a glimpse into the intricate relationships among those living on the Indonesian island. From the predominantly native Hindu population, to the influx of Muslims moving there for work, to the Western expats such as Singh’s murder victim, Flint highlights the way the different groups interact with each other and shows what such tensions can lead to.
While Singh is the main protagonist, the story jumps from the different characters’ perspectives. Through these different points of view, we get to know even the most seemingly minor characters and their motivations for why they do the things they do.
Despite some of the more serious subject matters such as murder and terrorism, Flint also weaves in light-hearted humor and funny moments that help balance things out — usually at Singh’s expense.
“Elementary: The Ghost Line”
By Adam Christopher
Titan Books, 2015
When consulting detectives Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson are summoned to the scene of a murder in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, they find the bullet-ridden body of an Irish-born subway train driver, tens of thousands of dollars in cash, and clues tying the victim to Columbia.
And so begins an investigation that initially stumps even the most well-known fictional detectives of all time. In “Ghost Line,” we follow Sherlock and Joan as they try to discover who killed the man and why. As the pair works to assist the New York Police Department (NYPD) in solving the case, all they uncover is more questions.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is a character who has inspired numerous renditions in the literary world, as well as the small and big screens. In this version, the deducing detective has left London and is offering his services across the pond. “Ghost Line” is based on the TV show “Elementary” (of which I am a fan, and the reason I picked up this book) and features Sherlock and his partner Joan Watson, a Chinese American surgeon-turned-sober-companion-turned-detective.
For those who are fans of the show, “Ghost Line” doesn’t disappoint. Christopher captures the idiosyncratic partnership between the two detectives that is the key to their success: Joan, the straight woman representing the audience and humanity against Sherlock’s more eccentric and logical personality. While the latter may be more accomplished and capable in most versions of the duo, the Watson here more than holds her own and is an equal to her counterpart.
Christopher also includes the usual suspects of “Elementary,” such as NYPD Capt. Tommy Gregson and detective Marcus Bell. This book gives fans another way to enjoy these characters as they work to protect the citizens of New York.
Samantha Pak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.