Jean-Luc Guéry is a man down on his luck. Middling journalist, gambling addict, alcoholic. Yet when news of his brother’s murder in Saigon reaches him in France, Guéry drops everything and travels to French Vietnam to investigate.
It’s 1951 and Jean-Luc Guéry, a perpetual ne’er-do-well, has arrived in Saigon from his native Côte d’Azur to look into the as yet unsolved murder of his brother. Guéry, a hack reporter for the regional Journal d’Antibes, has a fondness for alcohol and a weakness for gambling. His brother, on the other hand, was running a respectable business importing agricultural machinery but was found floating face down in the Arroyo Chinois with a bullet in his head.
Much more than a genre novel, this historical whodunnit is the fifth outing for Abir Mukherjee’s pair of mismatched detectives and another opportunity for the award-winning author to breathe fresh air into the British-in-India literary canon.
With its opening scene of a hard-boiled interrogation of murder suspect Han Manu, Lemon seems to be setting the reader up for yet another rote exercise in crime fiction. And the reader follows the cues, according to convention: skeptically receiving the detective’s attributions of guilt to a clearly confused Manu, suspecting that the murder of the teenage girl that has taken place will prove to be anything but a clear-cut case—and, still, satiated with the requisite hunger to plunge onward, with the promise of more clues to be unveiled shortly in the course of what is, after all, a refreshingly thin novel.
Diversity, even—or perhaps especially—Asian diversity, in crime novels and dramatizations is of course nothing new: Inspector Ganesh Ghote first appeared in 1964; Priyanka Chopra debuted in Quantico in 2015. But, mirroring the real world, there is now diversity within the diversity. Bloody Foreigners, Neil Humphreys’s latest “Inspector Low” novel, this time has the bipolar Singapore detective being called upon by London’s Detective Inspector Ramila Mistry to help with the murder of moonlighting Singapore student Mohamed Kamal in Chinatown.
Kotaro Isaka’s thriller Bullet Train moves as fast as the train—the Shinkansen—it takes place on and is named after. Already destined to be a movie starring the not-very-Japanese Brad Pitt and Sandra Bullock (one imagines some changes en route), Bullet Train, a guilty pleasure if there ever were one, is something of a cross between Murder on the Orient Express and Train to Busan.
Among the most unsettling words that can come at the end of a 600-page procedural crime thriller are: “End of Volume One”.