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The Floating Girl: 12/25/13

cover art

The Floating Girl by Sujata Massey is the fourth book of the Rei Shimura mystery series. Rei, an antiques dealer in Japan, is working part time at a magazine published for foreigners living in Tokyo. The owner decides there isn't enough of a market, choosing to jump into the manga market.

While reeling from the news, Rei starts researching the connection between older styles of Japanese artwork and the modern day manga phenomena. As she's learning all about manga (and for someone living in Tokyo, she seems woefully ignorant), she comes across an independent group of mangakas — who seem to be a mixture of locally born and foreign talent.

When one of them turns up dead with apparent yakuza connections, Rei can't help but investigate and see things to their logical conclusion. Rei's mixture of cultural naiveté and genuine interest gives her the ability to cut through the assumptions the police and neighbors are making.

Rei Shimura seems to have odd jobs in the same way that Goldy Schulz specializes in new types of cooking in each mystery. Sure, these are a way to introduce the protagonist to a new situation to explore a different aspect of Japanese culture (or catering).

The problem here is that manga (or as she calls them Japanese comics) isn't an unheard of thing in the United States. By 2000 when this book was published, it was getting pretty easy to buy imported and translated manga from the big booksellers. It's not too far a stretch to say that a mystery lover interested in Japan might also be a manga reader or an anime watcher. Therefore Rei's near complete ignorance on the subject while living and working in Tokyo is completely unbelievable. It would be like a person boarder town with Mexico not knowing about the existence of tele-novellas.

If Rei had been given some expertise in manga, or at least been a manga reader, it would have been possible to do so much more with the story than having to fall back on the very hackneyed Yakuza excuse. At least the Yakuza in the book were annoyed with that assumption too.

Three stars

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