Sunday, November 18, 2007

Where's the mystery?

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang was not quite what I was expecting from the description on the book cover. It certainly billed itself as being a mystery being solved by the female protagonist of the story- Wang Mei, who has set up a detective agency in Beijing. It turned out to be much less of a "mystery" than a story about the intricacies of family and Chinese culture, and social and political intrigues within China.
While well written, I approached it (because of the cover description) as a mystery story and came away disappointed. What does the publisher expect of the reader when they put "A Mei Wang Mystery" as a subtitle?
I thought the author tried a little too hard to make some of the wording feel like awkward English, like a Chinese person might speak if they learned English well, but not fluently. For example, in the hospital, Mei and her sister hire what amounts to a nurse's assistant to help take care of their mother, yet the author refers to her as a "help-worker" throughout the book. This is just one instance, but it occurs regularly throughout the book and makes the reading slightly awkward in some places. Strangely, in most other places, the characters/authors command of English is the equivalent a native speaker.
This may simply be the attempt of a first time novelist (both the wording and the lack of a real mystery) to establish a character in a first book then build the character in subsequent books where the language and story both improve. I would need to read a second book (if indeed, this is meant to be a series) and see the improvement before I were able to recommend this to others.

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