August is Ghost Month in Taiwan - a time to commemorate the dead: Burn incense, visit shrines, honor ancestors, and avoid unlucky situations, large purchases, and bodies of water. Jing-nan, a young man who runs a food stand in a bustling Taipei night market, doesn't consider himself superstitious, but this August is going to haunt him no matter what he does.
He is shocked to the core when he learns his ex-girlfriend from high school has been murdered. She was found scantily clad and shot on the side of a highway where she was selling betel nuts to passing truck drivers. Beyond his harrowing grief for his lost love, Jing-nan is confused by the news. "Betel nut beauties" are usually women in the most desperate of circumstances; the job is almost as taboo as prostitution. But Julia Huang had been the valedictorian of their high school, and the last time Jing-nan spoke to her she was enrolled in NYU's honor program, far away in New York. The facts don't add up. Julia's parents don't think so either, and the police seem to have closed the case without asking any questions.
The Huangs beg Jing-nan to do some investigating on his own - reconnect with old classmates, see if he can learn anything about Julia's life that she might have kept from them. Reluctantly, he agrees, for Julia's sake. But nothing can prepare him for what he learns - or how it will change his life.
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Grim, grimmer and grimmest.
I bought this book because it was recommended by Tim Hallinan, who is one of my very favorite writers. His talents are so far above those of Mr. Lin and Mr. Chin, that there is really no comparison, although I will note a few discrepancies. First, Tim's books are loaded with humor, lovable characters, plots that are written with breakneck speed, and also are full of Tim's love of the Thai people and of many aspects of the Southeast Asian countries. Mr. Lin's book has almost none of these. It begins with a grim murder and then goes quickly downhill from there. The primary character is a dour, pleasure-free man who hates his existence, which involves mainly working in a sidewalk barbecue stand in Taipei. There must be some pleasure, humor and/or adventure to grab the reader's attention. I found none of these in the slog that is trying to get through even a few chapters of this book. Enough said.
All of the above.
Mr. Chin would appear to have virtually zero narrative skills. He speaks in an uninflected monotone. He speaks in exactly one voice. The good and great narrators to whom I have listened over the years have often been trained as actors, and you can hear this in their performances. This audiobook moved me to exactly nowhere, slowly.
All of them.
A waste of your time and money. I still love almost everything Tim Hallinan writes, although I have to say that the Poke Rafferty books are way more to my liking than the Junior Bender series. It is hard to get involved in and attracted to a man who makes his living as a burglar. As for Mr. Lin, he should hold onto his day job, even if he deplores it.
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Stinky Tofu Anyone???
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