Friday, April 16, 2010

Review: All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe (Detectives Around the World)

A name only exists because another person calls you by it. If someone had cared for her, she'd never have tossed her name away like an old tire. There's love in a name.

When Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts first announced that she was doing a Detectives Around the World theme week, I was excited to participate and my first choice was to do a detective in Japan. The only problem, of course, is that I didn't actually know any. Jen was sweet enough to help me find one I could do and I'm really glad that I participated in this week, because it's been ages since I've read crime fiction, and I forgot just how good it can be.

Shunsuke Honma was recently shot on the job and now has an injured leg. He's on a leave of absence to give his leg time to heal when a distant relative, Jun, shows up and asks him for some help. His fiancee, Shoko, has mysteriously disappeared and he has no idea why. The last he saw her, he'd been trying to get her a credit card, but she was denied all credit because she had declared personal bankruptcy some years before. When Jun confronts her with this information, she panics and disappears.

Honma takes on the case and is surprised by how quickly he is drawn into what is a much bigger mystery than it initially appears to be. Is Shoko even really Shoko? His investigations takes him all over Japan.

I completely enjoyed this book. While I was drawn into the mystery, I was also impressed with the sharp social commentary and the almost unbelievable relevance it has to our own current economic conditions. Shoko, after all, was in deep debt. Miyabe explores the world of debt, how things spiral quickly out of control for people, and through the various characters she questions who is really responsible when one individual finds themselves deeply in debt. Consumerism, growing individualism, the desire to own in order to become all play a role in this story.

Readers who aren't Japanese will also probably find the situation of identity theft in Japan to be very interesting as well as the different ways in which Japanese culture plays into the story. What I enjoyed was that Honma was a single dad raising an adopted son. (his wife had passed away)

I was also impressed with the way in which Miyabe paints even the criminals in a sympathetic fact, I would say that coming to a deep understanding of why people do what they do, even when it's horrible and hurtful is an important element in her storytelling.

This is why I love crime fiction and why I'm glad Jen's week pushed me to move it up in priority. The very best of crime fiction examines our humanity, our motivations, our relationships to one another. It looks unflinchingly at our society and takes us into the heated moments that so often define a life. I'm glad to say that All She Was Worth fits right in there with the best.

Rating: 4.5/5
Source of Book: bought a used copy
Publisher: Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin)


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