Is it possible to enjoy a mystery novel immensely and yet be sadly disappointed at the series-heroine's antics? This was the conundrum I came face to face with while reading Sujata Massey's latest Rei Shimura mystery novel, "The Typhoon Lover," and discovered, rather to my surprise, that the answer was a resounding "yes."
When US intelligence suspect that Takeo Kayama, head of the Kayama School of Ikebana and Rei Shimura's former lover, may have bought an antique Mesopotamian ewer that was stolen during the latest gulf war, they decide to recruit Rei in order to discover how Takeo had acquired the piece. As a friend and former lover, the feeling is that Rei should be able to get the information without setting off too many alarm bells. And while Rei is not at all sure if she's cut out for this kind of cloak and dagger stuff, or even if she could persuade Takeo in take her into his confidence (much less talk to her since they did have a rather messy breakup), the lure of being able to return to Japan (Rei was deported from Japan in "Samurai's Daughter), proves too much for her. And in no time at all, Rei finds herself back in her beloved Japan, and trying to reconnect with a newly engaged Takeo, who would much rather keep Rei at arm's length. And while Rei was prepared for the fact that it would take a lot of hard work in order to reestablish their friendship, what she was not prepared for, she discovers to her horror, was the resurgence of some of her old feelings for Takeo, or how her flashly blundering about would lead to tragedy...
There were many things I liked about "The Typhoon Lover" -- like the fact that it took place mostly in Japan, and that it was a very well written, suspenseful, absorbing and totally riveting novel. However certain things did niggle at me: for example, I really had to suspend my disbelief in order to buy the notion that the US secret service's best bet to figuring out if Takeo was involved in buying stolen antiques was to bring Rei into the investigation. Surely must have been a better plan out there somewhere? I like the character, Rei Shimura, but her method of operation has always been to stumble about, rather flashily, until she arrives at the truth. Subtlety and discretion have never really been her strong points. And this was the woman that US intelligence thought perfect for this particular job? I also found that I was not really enjoying this new direction that the author was taking Rei in -- esp in regards to her relationship with Hugh (her on-and-off again boyfriend), after having gone through so much with Hugh, I was disappointed that Rei felt stifled by her relationship with him, and how she handled things here. But in spite of my growing frustration with Rei, I found that I simply had to read on in order to discover what would happen next. And this, in my opinion, was the real testament to Sujata Massey's brilliant writing skills -- that she had me absolutely riveted in spite of myself. Also brilliantly done, was how the authored portrayed the tense atmosphere as everyone was hunkering down to deal with the typhoon -- I really felt the cold, wet danger of it all. And as always, I enjoyed the author's portrayals of the current trends in Japan; and in this instance, Rei's feelings of confusion at realising that she may no longer fit in with the youth culture.
In all, "The Typhoon Lover" was a very enjoyable read. In spite of my complaints, at the heart of things, this series has not changed. Rei is still the flawed but stalwart character, who still passionately throws herself into whatever task she's doing. She may stumble about with two left feet, angering people and setting off alarm bells everywhere, but she's always determined to do the right thing and see justice done. That's the Rei Shimura that's won fans everywhere and the Rei Shimura that will always be at the heart of this series, in spite of whatever direction the author takes her heroine in.