08 Jun / Ghost Month [Taipei Night Market, Book 1] by Ed Lin
Some strong suggestions first: 1. Don’t read this hungry (just the phrase “Asian street food” will have many of you salivating); 2. Don’t read this all alone at night. And, if you decide to ‘read’ by listening to narrator Feodor Chin, be further warned: he does a chilling mix of all-innocent and threatening both. Shudder, shudder.
Here’s how Ed Lin’s latest starts: “When I found out the girl I was going to marry had been murdered …” “I” is our hero Jing-nan, also known as Johnny, a rather unassuming food stall owner/operator in Taipei’s bustling night market (stomach grumbling again?). He abandoned his UCLA degree when his father was dying of cancer to return home and take over the family business. The “girl” is Zheng-lian, aka Julia, who Jing-nan hasn’t seen in a few years, ironically because of eternal promises they made to each other of ‘happily ever after’ – the lovebirds agreed to strict stipulations before they could reunite and fulfill their lifelong destiny together. The “murder” has just happened, right here in Taipei, although Jing-nan had thought that Julia was doing bigger, better things at NYU. They were supposed to be “Johnny and Julia, two Taiwanese sweethearts with the same American dream.” But then, best-laid plans don’t come with guarantees …
Now Julia’s corpse has turned up in the city outskirts where she was working as a “betel-nut girl” – not exactly the sort of employment befitting a smart, ambitious, NYU honor student. Betel-nut stands are where taxi, bus, and truck drivers stop for a pick-me-up better than coffee, particularly appreciative of the service provided by scantily-clad, attractive, young women. What happened to the Julia Jing-nan fell in love with in third grade? Betrothed himself to in fifth? Ghost month – August, when the entire country shows appreciation for their dearly departed – looms. Jing-nan won’t be scared away from finding out exactly what happened to the love of his life … even if he has to risk his own to find the truth.
In the midst of his first title set in his ancestral homeland, New York-native Lin makes sure to weave in Taiwan’s tumultuous past – and present – with mainland China, as well as the country’s complicated history with western immigration and, more recently, reverse journeys back to the homeland. Lin’s hero’s encyclopedic obsession with western music creates a multi-culti backdrop that blends pop culture from both sides of the globe, as Jing-nan tries to come to terms with loss, longing, and a future he doesn’t recognize. From fancy offices to flaming hovels, unreliable narrators to unexpected stalkers, Jing-nan can’t trust anyone if he hopes to save lost souls … especially his own.