Two amateur detectives wonder whether a married couple’s isolated deaths were more than an accident and suicide in Chen’s (Death Comes to Lake Como, 2016, etc.) mystery-drama.
Fang Chen’s understandably distraught when hearing the news that his scientist pal Jim Ting has committed suicide. Having known Jim since they were Boston University housemates decades earlier, Fang Chen doesn’t believe Jim’s the type to kill himself. The scientist, who’d spent years on a new cancer drug, recently lost his wife, Dory, who’d succumbed to a venomous snakebite. This leads to speculation that Jim’s death was indeed a suicide, stemming from guilt over having murdered his wife. But there may be another reason: Jim had carried on a decadeslong affair with CPA Jamie Chou. Flashbacks reveal Jamie and already-married Jim first meeting at BU and the inevitable start of their affair. Despite having boyfriends and even living with a man, Jamie truly loves Jim and looks forward to their getaways, which wane in frequency as the years pass. Jim’s reluctant to leave Dory, at least not until their three children are grown and living independently, while an increasingly despondent Jamie considers the likelihood that he will never get a divorce. But does any of this amount to murder? Amateur sleuths Ann Lee and Fang Chen are determined to find out. The author takes a strange but intriguing approach this time with her recurring protagonists, as Ann and Fang Chen appear only sporadically. They’re mere observers, a literal role for Fang Chen during Jim and Jamie’s initial encounter. The story centers on Jamie, with readers privy to numerous glimpses of her life and musings, most of which the detectives don’t know. As a melodrama, it soars, providing sympathy for two characters engaged in an extramarital affair. Jamie, in particular, struggles as an immigrant, watching a less-experienced co-worker (and a U.S. citizen) bypass her professionally. The mystery, meanwhile, sits primarily on the back burner, and Ann acknowledges that the solution she eventually volunteers is conjecture. Readers, however, do get answers, and the end result for Jamie is both fascinating and sad.
The returning investigators have little to do, but readers gain an emotionally rich tale of ill-fated love.