Murder in paradise, with deep cultural undertones.
Mystery author Stansbury (The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, 2001) recalls the central players from her first novel–lithe American physician and former Peace Corp worker Ann Maglynn and hardened Korean-American police lieutenant Han–to solve a couple peculiar murders. This tricky island mystery turns out to be as much an exploration of Samoan culture as a fictional window into the netherworld of human psychology. The trouble starts when Ann, who currently works for the Health Department, stumbles upon the body of a young woman in a private dump. The discovery throws her back in league with Han, the married lieutenant she was involved with but had been avoiding ever since his wife and child returned from Japan. Not long after the body is found in the dump, the torso of another body shows up half-eaten by sharks, and much of the plot centers on trying to figure out the method, motive and murderer behind each death. The hunt for the killer in such a remote location is rendered persuasively enough to hold the interest of all save the pickiest CSI-junky. But it is the author’s diligent attention to the nuances of Samoan culture that sets the novel apart from the genre norm. Delicate Samoan tribal dynamics repeatedly come into play, illuminating the tangible racial and class tensions between and among natives and foreigners. Though readers may not care deeply for the victims, Stansbury enriches the story with subtle sociological glimpses–â€œSamoan has no equivalent for corpse, no word that isolates the dead from the living”–that give the story satisfying depth.
More than an average island whodunit–an enjoyable lesson in Samoa’s rich culture.