I’m in an odd mood reading-wise, right now. So I was looking for something a bit gentle and quirky that could pull me into the story – and was delighted when this offering ticked all those boxes.
BLURB: Mei Yamagawa is out of luck and out of money. After five years in Tokyo, she has little to show for it besides a laundry list of unrealized dreams. Left without a choice, she returns to her rural Japanese hometown, ready to be branded a failure by her relatives and rivals. At the least, she looks forward to seeing her best friend, until Akiko is accused of murdering her own father.
As Mei helps her farmer mother with the crops, she scouts for clues to clear her friend’s name. But during her investigation, she can’t help but notice the celebrity chef looking in her direction. The amateur detective can balance a new love interest and a murder case… can’t she?
REVIEW: This one is an interesting mash-up. Yes, there is a murder mystery running through the middle of the narrative, which draws together the narrative. But it isn’t actually the pivot of the ongoing story. At the heart of this one is the fact that Mei, after being a bright, hardworking student and a talented artist, somehow has lost her way.
Instead of finding herself in charge of a project team and going from strength to strength, as she’d confidently expected when moving to the city some five years earlier, Mei has lost three jobs in a row. She has to return to her home town, in debt and rely on her mother’s help to get back on her feet, again. She feels an utter failure – and Pajonas has to tread a tricky path in convincing her readers of her protagonist’s misery and crippling self-doubt, without producing an annoyingly whiny heroine. I think she pulls it off.
What helps to jolt Mei from her own troubles is the news that her best friend’s father has been strangled and Akiko, her best friend since forever, is one of the chief suspects. The town is in the process of being regenerated, thanks to the interest of a large food corporation who are interested in buying up abandoned farms, building greenhouses and a large headquarters, thus providing much welcome jobs. As a consequence, after years of slow stagnation as young people left to seek jobs elsewhere, shops and businesses are now springing up. But there are farmers who don’t want to sell – and Akiko’s father had been one of them.
To be honest, the murder mystery doesn’t produce all that many convincing suspects, so it wasn’t difficult to work out whodunit. But as the Japanese setting was so intriguingly different – and Mei’s assistance is actually welcomed by the police, this detail wasn’t a dealbreaker. I also enjoyed the ongoing romance, which was sweet and well handled. Overall, this was a delightful, engrossing read that was just what I needed at a difficult time. I’ll certainly be reading more of this series.