“In Pandian’s highly entertaining, fast-paced fifth outing for spunky historian Jaya Jones, Jaya flies from her native San Francisco to Kyoto, Japan…As usual, Pandian dishes up authentic history and cultural tidbits along with a first-class mystery. She also adds just the right light touch of romance.” – Publishers Weekly
A fabled illusion performed by a stage magician who claims to possess real supernatural powers. A treasure from the colonial era in India when international supremacies vied for power. A phantom trading ship lost over 200 years ago. And a ninja whose murderous intentions in present-day Japan connect the deeds of a long-dead trader who was much more than he seemed…
When Jaya travels from San Francisco to Japan with her stage magician best friend Sanjay—a.k.a. The Hindi Houdini—for his Japanese debut, she jumps at the chance to pursue her own research that could solve a tantalizing centuries-old mystery.
With the colorful autumn leaves of historic Kyoto falling around her, Jaya soon loses sight of what’s real and what’s a deception. A mysterious ninja attempts to sabotage Sanjay’s trick, along with Japan’s most controversial magician, Akira. Ancient folklore blurs the lines between illusion and reality when a magician’s assistant appears to be a kitsune, a mythical fox spirit. As tricks escalate to murder, Jaya and her friends must unravel secrets hidden in the ancient capital of Japan, before one of their own becomes the next victim.
“A beautifully complex, fast-paced mystery—a well-crafted blend of modern magic and ancient secrets, full of compelling characters and set in one of Japan’s most beautiful—and mysterious—locations.” – Susan Spann, Author of the Hiro Hattori Mysteries
Related subjects include: cozy mysteries, women sleuths, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), action adventure, murder mystery series, book club recommendations, amateur sleuth books, international mysteries.
Books in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series:
FOOL’S GOLD (novella in OTHER PEOPLE'S BAGGAGE)
PIRATE VISHNU (#2)
MICHELANGELO’S GHOST (#4)
THE NINJA’S ILLUSION (#5)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all.
USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood being dragged around the world, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories. Gigi’s fiction has been awarded the Malice Domestic Grant and Lefty Awards, and been nominated for Macavity and Agatha Awards. Find her online at www.gigipandian.com.
Read an Excerpt
I'm better at finding lost treasures than a phone buried in the bottom of my bag. Handwritten notecards for my lecture. A granola bar squished nearly as thin as a hand-pressed sheet of parchment. A magnifying glass. But no phone.
My students had kept me after class asking questions. Normally having engaged students was a wonderful thing. But not today. The text message I'd received before class told me this was urgent. He'd be calling any minute now.
I rushed through the building, hoping I didn't crash into any of the students who filled the hallway. With only two days to go before a week off for Thanksgiving break, a flurry of academic activity was keeping us busy. I wanted to answer the call privately inside my office, but this was taking too long. He was a stickler for promptness. Accurate timing meant the difference between life and death in his act.
I stopped next to a corkboard adorned with colorful flyers and rooted through my bag. A light from my phone illuminated the depths of the cavernous red messenger bag. I smiled as I saw the face of my best friend on the screen. In the photo, his thick black hair was partially obscured by his bowler hat, and a mischievous smile hovered on his lips.
"How goes it, Houdini?" I said as I answered the video call. I thought that would get a smile out of him. I never called him by his stage name, The Hindi Houdini.
"Don't get on the flight, Jaya," Sanjay said. "Don't come to Japan."
I stared back at the video image on the small screen, my smile wavering. "What are you talking about? I've got my ticket for the day after tomorrow."
"There's something —" He stopped speaking and glanced nervously over his shoulder. When he spoke again, his voice was quieter. "There's something odd going on here. You're not going to believe me, but I'm serious. Someone is —"
His voice broke off in the middle of the sentence. The screen went dark.
"Sanjay?" I said to a blank screen.
I tried calling him back as I walked to my office. He didn't answer.
Seeing the scowl on my face, the undergraduate students in the hallway parted to let me pass. Surely it was just a dropped signal. Sanjay was on the other side of the world from San Francisco, after all. But what had he been trying to tell me?
"Lecture bombed?" a voice next to me asked.
I jumped and dropped the phone. Why was I so shaken by Sanjay's call? He made his living as a performer. He was bound to be dramatic. I told myself that's all it was. But that look on his face ... It was difficult to believe the rational part of my brain.
"No," I said, picking up the phone. "Class went great."
"If this is what you look like after a good lecture," Tamarind said, "I'd hate to see you when a class goes badly. Your face is pale. Good thing I brought caffeine." The librarian smiled as she held up two paper cups of coffee, their lids covered in raindrops.
Tamarind Ortega had been hired at the university library two years before, after completing her Library Science Master's degree. She was a brilliant librarian who knew how to track down even the most obscure information, but the library staff also appreciated her size and temperament. Big-boned with clothing that indicated she was not to be messed with, the post-feminist post-punk was five feet ten inches of tough love. Our university was in the heart of San Francisco, and colorful characters who weren't students would sometimes wander into the library. Tamarind was great at relating to people the other librarians didn't want to deal with, and she wasn't afraid of using her strength and size as an implicit threat if disruptive people didn't leave the library. We met shortly after I got my job as an assistant professor. As two women starting out in academia who didn't fit conventional expectations, we'd quickly become friends.
I unlocked the door to my office. My six-foot Ganesha statue and his broken tusk greeted us. I'd fallen in love with the statue in a craftsman's workshop in Kochi, India. Lane Peters, the man whose presence never failed to make me feel more alive, had noticed my reaction to it and bought it for me. Tamarind handed me one of the coffees and set the other in front of Ganesha. I'd told her repeatedly it wasn't necessary, but she said it couldn't hurt.
"It's not the lecture," I said as I looked for a safe spot on my cluttered desk to set the coffee. "I'm distracted. Sanjay called me for a video chat, but we got disconnected."
"Bummer. I'm sure he'll call you back when he gets a signal."
The phone was still clasped in my hand. I willed Sanjay to call me back. What had he seen over his shoulder?
"Let me try him one more time." I deposited my bag underneath the messy desk and tried him again. I once again failed to reach him. I flopped dejectedly into the desk chair. It squeaked more miserably than usual, as if commiserating.
"Spill," Tamarind said. "What's going on?"
What was going on? I took a sip of coffee to give myself a moment to gather my thoughts. I smiled at Tamarind. "You remembered I like four sugars."
"Oops. I put in six. Hey, stop avoiding the question. Spill."
I looked out my small sliver of a window at the gray sky and misty rain. "You know Sanjay is performing as the opening act in an Indian Rope Trick show in Kyoto next week. The fabled illusion that's supposedly impossible."
Sanjay was a professional stage magician — an incredibly successful one. Performing as The Hindi Houdini, he'd been doing his show at a theater in the Napa Valley until a California wildfire last summer had burned the theater to the ground. He didn't have a backup plan, so after the theater where he'd established his career was destroyed, he didn't know what to do with himself. An invitation from Akira, Japan's most famous stage magician, came at the perfect time. Sanjay was aimless and vulnerable. The controversial magician who claimed to perform real miracles had swept in to take advantage of the situation to fill a hole in his new show. With a much more scrupulous magician friend in Japan, Sanjay could have been doing a show where the theatrics remained on the stage. Unfortunately, his friend Hiro's career wasn't doing nearly as well as Akira's, so Hiro hadn't been the one to extend an offer.
Tamarind nodded. "That's old news, Jaya. Why do you look so freaked out about it?"
"Sanjay texted me earlier, saying he needed to tell me something urgent. When he called, he said something 'odd' was going on." Goosebumps swept over my arms as I remembered Sanjay's face. "He told me not to come to Japan."
"Shut. Up. Why would he say that?"
I bit my lip. "He looked over his shoulder ... and the connection went dead." I gripped the paper coffee cup so hard that coffee splashed onto a stack of papers.
"Seriously?" Tamarind gaped at me as she tossed me a box of tissues from my bookshelf. "Of course you're serious. You don't have that kind of sense of humor. But Sanjay does. He's messing with you. I'm all for pulling a good practical joke on one's friends, but if he could see how tense he's making you, he'd call you back."
"This isn't a joke. It's not only what he said to me today. Sanjay was desperate to sign onto this gig, but it made him uneasy. Something has been weighing on him since the first time Akira contacted him. But he wouldn't talk about it."
That, I realized, was why Sanjay's dropped call had been so unsettling. He was already nervous about something. Something he wasn't telling me.
"Because of Akira's reputation as someone who possesses real supernatural powers?" Tamarind asked.
"That's part of it. Akira cons people into believing he performs real miracles. But Sanjay already knew that about him when he signed on. Something changed."
"Let's ask my assistant." Tamarind enunciated as she spoke into her phone. "What has Japanese magician Akira done this week?" She frowned at her phone and shook her head. "No public scandals to speak of. Oh, but here's something worth our time."
Tamarind grinned as the sound of a Japanese pop song filled my office. She held up a music video with four teenage boys dancing on a stage and thousands of fans in a stadium audience.
"There's so much happening on this screen right now," I said, "I think I might have a seizure." Small rectangles with additional videos played in both the top left and lower right corners of the screen, in addition to text that scrolled across the bottom.
"That's the norm with Japanese television. It engages all the senses. But I don't know how you can look at anything else besides that beautiful face of his. Akira is the one with silky-smooth long hair."
"He looks like he's sixteen."
"This video is from more than a decade ago. So my reaction is totally age appropriate. I'm not really into J-pop, though, so I don't know the story of why the boy band broke up. But that's when Akira became a magician."
"Sanjay told me how it took Akira a while to make it as a magician. Challenging starts to their magic careers is one thing they have in common."
"Sanjay never had an accident like Akira's, though."
Tamarind began dancing to the catchy song. I took the phone and silenced it.
She sighed. "Sanjay didn't tell you?"
I shook my head.
"All I know," Tamarind said, "is that a few years ago, Akira nearly died. It was an accident in his show — and it looked like he was dead. The press initially thought it was a publicity stunt, but when it took him a whole year to recover, and he returned with a crippled hand, everyone realized it wasn't. He lost the use of his left hand, but he gained something else. He came back with the power to perform miracles."
"He doesn't really perform miracles."
Tamarind shrugged. "He's much more famous now. And he has legions of fans who believe he does."
"I know. And that's how he claims he's going to pull off performing the 'impossible' Indian Rope Trick. I don't understand how Sanjay convinced himself it was okay to work with Akira."
"Sure you do."
"Ambition, Jaya. That hunky best pal of yours has got more of it than anyone I know."
"I know Sanjay is ambitious," I said. "I wouldn't be so worried if that's all it was."
What was so dire that had him looking over his shoulder and telling me not to join him in Japan? Sanjay had escaped from a coffin sinking to the bottom of the Ganges. He'd kept his wits when there was a mishap during a stunt where he was buried alive. I'd never seen him nervous about a performance.
Until now.CHAPTER 2
"You need a distraction until Sanjay calls you back," Tamarind said. "That's why I'm here, after all."
"No, not really. I'm delivering a message from Miles that he was too scared to give you himself. He's not going to get caught up before you leave for Japan."
I'd recently hired my underemployed poet neighbor, Miles, as my part-time assistant. I hadn't been able to keep up with the email messages and letters people had been sending me since I'd helped find treasures from India that had been lost for centuries. After missing an important message over the summer, I knew I needed help. Tamarind was dating Miles after they met through me, and she'd suggested the idea.
"I'm behind too." I pointed to the stack of papers I'd just spilled coffee on. Several of the people who got in touch with me had serious ideas that merited a personal response from me, not simply a polite form letter from Miles.
"You're replying to all these yourself?"
"An academic in south India thinks he may have stumbled across a temple cache like the Padmanabhaswamy temple in Trivandrum." It was easy enough to refer to Bombay as its reclaimed name Mumbai, Madras as Chennai, and Calcutta as Kolkata, but the south Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram was a mouthful in casual conversation. "And a retired businessman found a buried hoard of coins in his backyard in Texas when he began gardening."
"Since when did you become that kind of treasure hunter, Jaya?"
"The coins had Sanskrit writing on them."
"Obviously neither one is my kind of thing. But I need to figure out who to put them in touch with. And then there are people like Dr. Nakamura, a professor I met at a history conference a few years ago. He has some questions about my work on East India Company trade routes in Europe and Asia. It's my specialty, so I can't punt him to someone else."
"You're too responsible for your own good."
"Says the person who trekked across campus in the rain. You didn't have to give me Miles's message in person."
"The real reason I wanted to come," she said, "is because I found this." She reached into her plaid backpack and held up a hardback book with library markings in the corner.
She opened the book to a full-page reproduction of a magic poster from the early 1900s. "Ta-da. May I present the most magical illusion the world has ever known: The Indian Rope Trick."
The illustrated poster was filled with vivid reds and bright yellows. Framing the poster was the arch of a Mughal palace, and the Taj Mahal was visible in the distance. In the center, a young Indian boy climbed a rope that stretched to the sky from a woven basket. At the bottom of the poster, a conjuror waved his hands in the air, directing the magical feat.
"Pretty cool, huh?" she said. "This is one of the oldest posters advertising the trick. I couldn't resist looking it up when you told me where you were going. I also found an eyewitness account."
"There aren't any real eye-witness accounts. Since the Indian Rope Trick is impossible and hasn't been performed in its true form."
"You doubt me, Jaya?" Tamarind asked with a grin. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them and spoke, her voice was that of a different person. One with a faux British accent.
"The most famous illusion in the world, and I saw it with my own eyes, I did. There I was in a dusty open field outside New Delhi, the stifling sun beating down on us." She glanced down at the book in her hands before resuming the story. "A wisp of a boy gathered us Westerners together. He explained we were about to witness the most amazing things we'd ever beheld. My friend and I crept closer. It was then we saw the old man with a white beard that reached his heart. But Jaya, what a black heart it was."
Her kohl-lined eyes grew wide with mock horror. It was a superb performance, and I found myself successfully distracted from my worries.
Her voice fell to a stage whisper. "This was the great magician to whom the boy was enslaved. Once a dozen of us were gathered around the two of them, the black-hearted magician showed us a wicker basket, about two feet high, empty except for a coil of thick rope. The magician lifted the rope from the basket and tossed it into the air. To my surprise, the rope stayed there, hovering in the air." Tamarind glanced again at the book. My gaze followed hers, and I noticed for the first time how modern the book was. I found myself disappointed it wasn't a centuries-old book containing a real eye-witness account.
"We weren't near any buildings, Jaya," she continued. "It was an open field. You can imagine how much my heart raced. It nearly popped out of my chest at what happened next." She picked up one of the figurines that cluttered half my desk, small tokens of appreciation from people I'd helped or who hoped I'd help them. Tamarind selected the palm-sized Leprechaun. "The small boy climbed up the rope suspended in midair. My friend is an artist, so he began to sketch the amazing scene before us. I took a photograph. I was glad I did, because a moment later, two of the most unimaginable things occurred." She paused, meeting my gaze, as if daring me to ask her to continue.
"I'll bite. What happened?"
"The boy disappeared. Into. Thin. Air. As soon as he reached the top of the rope, high above us, he simply vanished." She unsurreptitiously flung the Leprechaun into the plaid backpack at her feet. "The magician became angered at this, so he climbed up the rope after the boy — with a machete in his hand." She stepped forward, brandishing a Swiss army knife. "The magician climbed higher and higher, then disappeared at the top of the rope as well, along with his machete. But from the ground below, we could hear them arguing. I didn't understand the language they were speaking, but it was clear they were fighting."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Ninja's Illusion"
Copyright © 2017 Gigi Pandian.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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