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It is with great sadness that I write this review for what is almost certainly (by the author's own admission on her website), the final book featuring spunky Japanese-American girl detective Rei Shimura. I can say without exaggeration that I consider Rei to be the freshest , quirkiest and most memorable creation in the female sleuth genre I have been privileged to find. I spent nearly 7 years living and working in Japan, and discovering Rei was like making an instant new friend whom I felt I had already known for years, a fellow cultural warrior who shared many of the same struggles I did as a semi-literate guest worker in that society. Her adventures in Japan were also a nostalgia tour for me, reconnecting me to the unique culture of the country where I spent so many transformational years. I have great affection for Rei and her habitat, which made it very difficult for me to enjoy later books in this series in which I felt the author was losing her grip on what was most compelling about Rei as a character. Rei is at her best when she is in Tokyo, working in her antiques business and interacting with her colorful cast of Japanese supporting characters in the course of her adventures. Rei may only be half-Japanese, but I feel she is only fully herself when she is set loose in Japan.
It has been a very long time since we enjoyed that Rei. After events at the end of "The Bride's Kimono" led to Rei's deportation from Japan, there was a sea change in the direction Massey took this series and regretfully it was not for the better. The book immediately following, "The Samurai's Daughter" was completely set in Rei's hometown of San Francisco, but that change of scenery worked as a brief respite for our overworked heroine (even though she did manage to almost get herself killed once again.) We hoped that after a break in America for Christmas, Rei would find her way back to Tokyo, or at least to her beloved antiques business. Alas, subsequent books (The Pearl Diver, The Typhoon Lover) showed us Rei still far adrift from her spiritual home. With "The Pearl Diver", action shifted to Washington, D.C., the setting for "The Bride's Kimono". There, Rei at least was given the relevant task of decorating a Japanese restaurant, a gig that got her back into what she does so well. Unfortunately that book also signaled Rei's final break with Hugh, and along with his baby that she miscarried, Rei seemed to lose her heart and soul as well. As bleak as that denouement would have been, Massey would have done better by Rei to end it there. The next two installments returned Rei to Japan for the bulk of the action, but that was small comfort when the action was so very ridiculous. Whatever was Massey thinking by making Rei an espionage agent? Rei has made a career out of talking her way into jobs and situations for which she is maginally qualified, but this was really stretching it to incredulity. Hugh fans like me are non-plussed with the extraneous introduction of a new love interest for Rei in the person of her (much older) boss at the spy agency. Michael Hendricks reads like a Harlequin fantasy boyfriend, handsome, dashing . . .and completely two-dimensional. In contrast to Hugh's colorfully flawed humanity, he's like a hologram.
Which brings us to "Shimura Trouble". Immediately I noticed that not only is it at least 100 pages shorter than all of Massey's other efforts, it has a different imprint as well. Perhaps Massey's long-time publishing house, HarperCollins, was as non-plussed with the direction (or lack thereof) in the last two books as I and refused this manuscript. Based on the author's plea on her website for libraries and collectors to purchase this last installment, that makes me think it's not selling well, which is, if true, absolutely justified. The appealing Hawaiian setting is not enough to overcome the weakest character development and least-involving storyline of Massey's career. Perhaps the obvious lack of effort in coming up with a title that,like all the others before it, references some aspect of Rei's Japanese heritage is clue enough that Massey is finished with Rei. Though Rei finally gets her happy ending, it's so rushed and perfunctory that we don't care. (Would the Rei we knew fail to invite her mother to her long-awaited wedding?) Obviously Massey was rushing this manuscript to deadline, because her characteristic care with plot detail is missing, big-time. You may want to purchase this if only to round out your collection of Rei Shimura. It by no means represents Rei, or Massey, in her best light. Though I own all ten books, Rei will live on in my mind as she was in the three strongest offerings of this series: "Zen Attitude"; "The Flower Master" and "The Bride's Kimono". These present Rei in all her tough-minded, independent, stubborn, prickly, energetic glory. The last four books in this series have not served her well, and this one, the last, least of all. If I were meeting Rei for the first time in this book, I'd find precious little to engage me. Certain plot elements are lifted from earlier books, recycling how Rei almost meets her demise in this book, for one. And having Rei don a wetsuit and a wire to make an amphibious stealth landing a la a Navy Seal is the most ridiculous James Bondian thing she's put her seasickness-prone heroine through yet. Did she really think we wouldn't notice that Rei's no James Bond?
"Sayonara" literally translated means: "Until we meet again." I would love to meet Rei again, but only if she can come out of retirement as her old fiesty self. That is unlikely. I feel that Rei and her long-time readers deserved a better farewell than this.