Family turmoil draws an elderly part-time California sleuth back into action and triggers a sometimes-uncomfortable trip down Memory Lane.
The Watsonville funeral of his second cousin Shug becomes a bittersweet reunion for elderly Mas Arai and a handful of others who worked the strawberry fields together decades ago. The retired gardener and occasional detective feels affection for his 1940s youth in Watsonville but also remembers the discrimination he faced after emigrating to the United States in the wake of Hiroshima. Shug's erratic son Billy has carried on the family strawberry business and even found a remedy for the pernicious plant disease strawberry yellow. His grief is palpable and hard for Mas to witness. In the middle of the night, Mas is jolted by police sirens. The body of a young woman has been found in the nearby greenhouse, her head bashed in. She's identified as Laila Smith, Billy's girlfriend. That's awkward because Billy is married, though estranged from his wife. One of the investigating detectives is Shug's niece Robin Arai, who's not shy about sharing information with Mas. Overwhelmed, he decides to leave, but Shug's widow, Minnie, buttonholes him and voices her opinion that Shug was murdered, not the victim of the reported heart attack. What can Mas do but probe?
Mas' fifth case (Blood Hina, 2010, etc.) has both depth and an intricate whodunit, weaving flashbacks of the sleuth's complicated youth with the starker contemporary reality of buried resentments and revenge.