Girl In A Box Hardcover – Aug 17 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
In Massey's winning ninth crime novel (after 2005's The Typhoon Lover), brassy Rei Shimura, now working for an elite U.S. spy agency, infiltrates a Tokyo department store whose profits are suspiciously inflated, though she wonders why this is a matter of American state security. Since it's her first covert mission, Rei has a lot to learn, including how to lie convincingly and how to be cautiously distrustful. When she overhears the store's head make a death threat, Rei's boss, Michael Hendricks, gets concerned and flies to Japan to give her backup. This causes as many problems as it solves, because Michael and Rei are forced to admit to themselves that they're falling for each other. (The hilarious scene in which they share their first kiss could easily have come across as trite or predictable in lesser hands.) Readers will find Rei's cross-cultural escapades as engrossing as the department store's shenanigans. The minor characters—a clerk with a bitchy attitude, an anxious banker from New Jersey—are as well developed as the delightful heroine.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In the ninth Rei Shimura novel, former antiques dealer Rei is now working as a special informant (spy) for the Organization for Cultural Intelligence (OCI). Her training is cut short when the agency needs her to work undercover at the Japanese department store Mitsutan, where some financial irregularities have been reported. Using makeup and some forged records, Japanese American Rei is presented as a Japanese national in Tokyo, where she must try to fit in as a traditional Japanese woman, despite her American upbringing. She investigates while working as a salesclerk at the store until her cover is blown, and she must save herself and another member of the agency. The reader is immersed in the everyday world of the Japanese worker, from long workdays to the necessity to maintain a humble demeanor. The likable Rei, who is still getting over a failed romance, must fight a growing attraction to her boss while she tries to find her place in the world as a half-Japanese, half-American woman. An increasingly strong series mixing crime and multicultural awareness. Sue O'Brien
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is the ninth book in Sujata Massey's Rei Shimura series, and the young woman in her 20s making her way as an antique dealer in Japan is now 30 and working for the U.S. government as a spy. It sounds like a bit of a stretch, but two things make Rei perfect for the job: her mixed heritage, which allows her to be much less conspicuous in Japan than a Caucasian would be; and her experience investigating crimes.
In "Girl in a Box," Rei has to go undercover in a super-ritzy Japanese department store in order to discover some secrets. Her customers and co-workers think she's a simple salesgirl, but in fact, she's creeping around planting bugs and trying to overhear conversations. Naturally, her position is extremely precarious -- in fact, her predecessor died under mysterious circumstances.
People who love this series because of the cultural component will love finding out about the inner workings of a Japanese department store. It's pretty different than the American retail scene! And, of course, Rei fans will want to find out the latest about her love life. It can be read as a stand-alone but knowing everything about Rei's past as revealed in the previous books adds another layer of enjoyment.
Good Things: The story is interesting, and much less hackneyed than most mystery novels. Also, as usual, the information / culture about Japan is wonderful. I much enjoyed all the information about the department store, the needle blessing, etc.
Bad Things: I agree with Hammond: lose the labels. They make Rei seem shallow and pretentious, like a chick in bad chick lit. The occasional designer reference as appropriate to the story is OK, but the REI I know would not be plugging "comme des garcons". She'd be wearing jeans by someone normal, like JCrew, LLBean, etc.
Another bad thing: Even without the label-dropping, she is starting to seem really shallow to me. There is occasional lip service to how Hugh "broke her heart" but no real sense of missing him. Really! They were engaged! She ought to be remembering him and trying to get him to forgive her. No one gets over a REAL serious romance of long standing that fast. And she spends the book wanting to [bleep] her new boss. Come ON! This is not the Rei I used to like.
Also, she seems not to remember that SHE cheated on Hugh. No, she says He broke Her heart. A little honesty and regret would be nice.
Finally, I miss the antiques. Bring back the antiques and bring back Hugh. At least make Rei's emotional life a little more mature.
I found the whole premise of Rei working for a fictional undercover agency ridiculous. I find very annoying the inclusion of the description and label of every garment Rei wears.
Rei has only aged a year to every two of ours out in reader land, taking her from 27 to 30 years old. Still, with all that, and her twenties now behind her, one would expect this slightly older Rei to be slightly wiser, too, and have an adventure worthy of all her growing life experience. I found "Girl in a Box" disappointing on that score. This installment finds Rei back in Tokyo, posing as the 'perfect' department store employee: a 23-year-old well-bred and immaculately-groomed girl still living at home with her parents. Her mission: to gather intelligence about potential organized crime activity on behalf of the American government. Since it comes as a surprise to no one that the Japanese mafia ('yakuza') has its fingers in every major profit-making concern in Japanese interests both domestic and abroad, the conceit that it's so shocking to the fictitious government agency that employs Rei that they'd go to ridiculous lengths to imperil her life by sending her in to gather intel is the only real mystery here. Rei as a covert ops agent alone strains credulity; allegedly she has been spending 6 months in spy school, but she's not very good at it, as she manages to make frequent blunders as called for by the plot in order to maximize her peril. For all her blundering about on the job, evidently she slips so effortlessly into her cover, aided by a super-glam makeup job and new haircut, that no one ever questions her identity. Rather odd, since her quaint non-native pronunciation & her functional illiteracy in reading written Japanese have always made her stand out and struggle in the past. Rei is just not convincing as either a department store doll or a spy. A large part of Rei's prickly charm is missing in this installment; her complete lack of introspection becomes grating--it was only two books ago that Rei had a miscarriage & ended her relationship with Hugh for good(again), but there's no hint of that water under the bridge. Indeed, there is no connection to any of Rei's past life at all, save one brief appearance each of Aunt Norie and BFF Richard Randall. It's rather instructive that Rei is posing as a 23-year-old here, because Massey has essentially erased most of the last 7 years like they never happened.
The best part of any Rei adventure for me is always the Japanese cultural tidbits. Through Rei's exploits I have learned a great deal about antique Japanese woodwork; kimono, ikebana; comic book culture & the battles 'half-blooded' people fight daily in that society. This book focuses on the modern Japanese obsession with mass consumerism, a facet that is neither flattering to the Japanese people nor particularly interesting. Having spent 6 years in Japan, I can say that Ms. Massey's cultural details and the physical aspects of her locations have been spot-on so far. I never had the funds to shop in the upscale department stores such as the one Rei works in here, but it still fails to engage me on a level of her other books. I do wonder whether the real Mitsutan Department store, an actual company, and the Japanese equivilent of Macy's, has any issues with being raked over the coals as a hotbed of underworld criminal activity? That would be a severe loss of face for them, even if the work is entirely fictional.
As a stand-alone work, "Girl in a Box" is a pleasant-enough outing. But for those of us familiar with Rei's milieu, this effort falls far short of what we are accustomed to seeing. I don't think any of us are ready, either, to see Rei replace Hugh so quickly with her older boss, no matter how attractive he might be. Let's hope that Rei makes good on her plan to quit the spy agency and return to her first love of antiques. The antiques world desperately needs her, but the espionage world is better off if she stays as far away as possible. I'm also gunning for a return to the picture of Rei's estranged lover, Hugh Glendinning. Rei might not want to admit it, but even if those two are often like sushi & Guinness, they belong together.
It is inconceivable to me that anyone can continue to make so many bad and ill-planned decisions and still be alive or employable. At times, the author just makes some technical mistakes that can be annoying for this reader, at least. Example: In 'The Typhoon Lover' there is a scene where Rei is making her way through a driving rainstorm, on foot, while carrying some valuable papers under her shirt. When she arrives at her destination she feels grateful that she left them back at home where they are dry and safe. That kind of stuff just pulls me right out of the fantasy of the mystery and into the present and real world. Not why I read. Maybe Ms Massey could finish writing a critical scene before she goes to the restroom or on vacation or whatever, so she doesn't have to recall where she left off.
Rei makes alot of mistakes that are just unaccountably dense, given her obvious intelligence and bravery.
I love learning about Japanese culture and would prefer she stay in Japan longer. The scenes with her in DC are not very interesting to me personally. And I'm really glad she is done (for now) with Hugh. He seemed pretty petulant to me. Unlike some readers I don't mind the designer name dropping. She is a clotheshorse. It suits her.
I'm sure I'll read this prolific author's 2008 book as well. But, like 'Girl In a Box', I'll get it from the library and not buy it like I did all her prior books.