In honour of Asian Heritage Month, May’s reading prompt is mystery or crime fiction by an Asian Canadian author. Just a warning that these books touch on difficult topics such as murder, death, and complicated family relationships.
1) The Conjoined, by Jen Sookfong Lee (Available on Audible Canada)
Social worker Jessica Campbell is only just coming to terms with her mother’s recent death when she discovers the bodies of two children in a freezer among her mother’s things. In an effort to determine whether her mother was responsible, Jessica begins to investigate the lives and deaths of the children – two foster girls who had spent time in Jessica’s home during her childhood – and in the process, discovers her own understanding of what it truly means to help others.
Although there are some elements of a murder mystery, such as a main character who investigates a mysterious death, evidence, and suspense, The Conjoined is not your typical mystery novel. Rather, it is a reflection on family structures – what keeps them together and what tears them apart.
2) Your Life is Mine, by Nathan Ripley (Available on Audible Canada)
In Your Life is Mine, Blanche Potter, a true crime documentary filmmaker, has to reckon with her past as the child of a deceased cult leader, who committed a mass shooting before turning the gun on himself. When Blanche suspects that a cult follower may be attempting to continue her father’s work, she must confront her traumatic childhood in order to find a way to stop them. This novel was written by author Naben Ruthnum, who writes mystery thrillers under the pseudonym Nathan Ripley. He has also written another mystery novel entitled Find You in the Dark.
3) A Gentleman’s Murder, by Christopher Huang
“One of these days, someone would have to write a story, perhaps even a detective story, featuring a Chinese hero,” laments Eric Peterkin, a man of mixed British and Chinese ancestry – and the amateur sleuth who stars in A Gentleman’s Murder. This novel is a more classic kind of mystery, modelled on Golden Age detective fiction, where readers are encouraged to solve the mystery as they are reading the book. While investigating a murder that has taken place at his gentlemen’s club, Eric comes up against all sorts of obstacles that make solving the mystery more complicated: the profound consequences of the Great War, microagressions against Eric due to his ethnicity, and the slow, difficult labour required to do investigative work in the 1920s, when modern-day techniques such as forensics and DNA testing didn’t yet exist!
4) The Unquiet Dead, Ausma Zehanat Khan (Available on Audible Canada)
The Unquiet Dead is the first book in Ausma Zehanat Khan’s series of crime novels, which feature detective partners Rachel Ghetty and Esa Khattak. In The Unquiet Dead, the two detectives investigate the death of a man who may have been a war criminal involved in the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian War in 1995. Khan definitely draws inspiration from current events in Canadian politics, as the other novels in the series focus on topics such as local terrorist cells, Syrian refugees, and a mass shooting at a mosque.