Zen Attitudeby Sujata Massey
Life in modern Tokyo is a blast for Rei Shimura, a young Japanese-American woman who enjoys busy days as an antiques dealer and steamy nights with a devoted new boyfriend. But things come to a standstill when Rei overpays for a rare old chest of drawers for a wealthy client, the owner of a famous Zen temple in Kamakura. The exquisite tansu turns out to be/em>… See more details below
Life in modern Tokyo is a blast for Rei Shimura, a young Japanese-American woman who enjoys busy days as an antiques dealer and steamy nights with a devoted new boyfriend. But things come to a standstill when Rei overpays for a rare old chest of drawers for a wealthy client, the owner of a famous Zen temple in Kamakura. The exquisite tansu turns out to be a fake: the worst deal Rei has ever made. When the temple family turns on Rei -- and the con man who sold the tansu is murdered -- she realizes she's opened a Pandora's box of deception and murder. A young martial artist, an aspiring rock singer, and an elderly antiques mentor all become part of Rei's search for the killer through the shadows of an ancient culture. As her world begins to rapidly and inexplicably unravel, Rei realizes that it will take strength, wit, and a Zen attitude to survive.
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The Japanese antiques market is brutal. There are hardly any good pieces left anywhere, so even if you have the cash, the chances of finding a dream piece are slender. Going into the assignment, I expected trouble. Still, I never expected that a chest of drawers could cost me almost everything I owned.
The first thing I lost was a vacation. Hugh Glendinning, the man I moved in with on Valentine's Day, had stopped pleading and waving tickets around and simply flown off to Thailand by himself. I was left with nothing but work: chiefly, the pursuit of an antique wooden chest I was becoming convinced existed only in my client's imagination. During the last two weeks, I'd driven from my home base in Tokyo north to Nigata and then west to Kyoto. On the way, I'd suffered a flash flood and enough mosquito bites to keep a small anopheles colony drunk for a while. The rainy season had ended and I was into July heat, all without finding the tansu.
I was obsessing over my various failures while caught in a massive traffic jam on the Tomei Expressway. Adding to my irritation was the fact that everyone in the surrounding cars seemed to be triumphantly setting off on their holidays. Fathers manned the steering wheels while mothers passed snacks to children battling with inflated plastic water wings. I was contemplating grabbing a pair of wings and floating off to Phuket when the cellular telephone rang.
"Rei Shimura Antiques," I answered while fumbling with the receiver. I had recently read that car-phone users were as dangerous as drunken drivers, andgiven my lack of coordination, I believed it.
"Rei-san, where are you exactly?" Nana Mihori's patient voice crackled across the line. We'd talked every one of the last thirteen days, including the day before, when I'd called her from outside Nara to say I was going home. I'd seen many chests that almost met her requirements, but she wanted a special tansu she'd seen in a book. All my clients wanted something they'd seen in a book.
"I'm pretty close to the Izu Peninsula. I think." I squinted at a road sign far ahead of me, thinking how unfortunate it was that I was still nowhere near knowing the standard base of 1,500 to 2,000 kanji, or pictographic characters, needed to be a literate adult. I'd grown up in San Francisco with an American mother and a father from Japan. Speaking was easy for me, and usually all I needed for my job as a freelance antiques buyer.
"It is convenient that you are still outside Tokyo. I've learned about a very nice store in Hita that carries high-quality antiques from all over the country. My friend Mrs. Kita found a handsome clothing chest there last week."
"Isn't Hita near Hakone?" The hot-springs region she was talking about was far from my route.
"Rei-san, you have been working so hard for me, I want to make sure you get your buyer's commission. But after all your travels, I worry it's an imposition to ask you to stop. . . ."
"Oh, it's no trouble at all. Where's the shop?" I balanced the phone against my shoulder and began digging around for a pen. The truth was, I needed her badly. My business was five months old, and the foreign expatriate clients I'd hoped to attract had turned out to be pretty stingy. My Aunt Norie had recently introduced me to Nana Mihori, the wife of the owner of a famous Zen temple in Kamakura, a picturesque city an hour south of Tokyo. Nana's funds were unlimited, as was her potential for good word of mouth. I couldn't let her down.
Saying good-bye to my customer, I noticed that a boy and girl riding in the Mitsubishi Carisma on my right were imitating me by talking into their soft-drink cans. I mouthed moshi-moshi, the standard telephone greeting, at them. The kids giggled and said something back. What was it?
Abunai, I realized belatedly as something big and brutal jolted my car. Danger!
I dropped the phone and clung to the steering wheel that had loosened under my fingers. I stomped on the brake and glanced in the rearview mirror. It was filled with the sight of a small commercial truck whose driver was waving me toward the expressway's narrow shoulder.
How I could crash a car in all-but-stopped traffic was beyond me; I was the queen of bad luck. Repairs to the luxurious Toyota Windom would probably be astronomical. And the worst part was that it wasn't even my car; it belonged to Hugh.
Feeling numb, I watched the truck driver emerge wearing a cheerful yellow jumpsuit and matching cap. Under other circumstances, I would have smiled.
I crept out of the Windom, aware of how disreputable I appeared: a vaguely Japanese-looking woman in her late twenties with short hair, shorter shorts, and a shrunken UC Berkeley T-shirt. I hurried toward him in my flip-flop sandals, my Japanese driver's license and Hugh's automobile registration clutched in hand.
The trucker was carrying something too; a small unopened can of Yodel Water. He offered it to me in a bizarre gesture of hospitality. I accepted, glancing at the cheery slogan written in English: Always Makes You Fresh and Cool Wherever You Try It! Not today, I thought, my T-shirt already beginning to stick to my back.
Together we surveyed the results of our collision. The truck's damage appeared minimal: a bit of the Windom's shiny black paint had rubbed onto his fender. But my left taillight was smashed. The driver picked delicately at the remaining glass chips, wrapped them up in a tissue, and handed them to me.
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If you read for a strong sense of time and place, this is for you. I can't say if this is an accurate evocation of Japan, but it is certainly vivid and convincing. I was utterly enthralled by it. It makes up for some of the flaws in plotting: it is always difficult for an author to find plausible reasons why an amateur would constantly be involved in solving murders and why they would be competent at it, so I'm always willing to cut them a little slack for the first few books. Unfortunately, I find Rei Shimura an extremely unappealing guide: dreary, whiny, shallow, sordid and not inclined to waste time thinking. I really like her mentor in the antique business, I just can't imagine why he wastes his valuable time on such a loser. I read mysteries simply as novels, so if I can spot the clues before the main character does, they are pretty dim. Rei, who has reached her twenties living in the United States and Japan doesn't know how to work the locks on a car door. She really ought to get out of the detective business. She doesn't so much solve mysteries as miraculously survive blundering into the thick of it.
Tedious and begining to doubt how authentic background from travel folders will not contiinue series
A tom comes in. Brown with grey eyes and black feet. "Take care of my kit." He whispered looking at the brown kit rolling around. "Farewell." Turns and ran.