Scandals and mysteries abound in this month’s recommended reads

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly Heist
By Diana Renn
Viking, 2012

When Violet Rossi, a lover of all things Japan, finds out her father is commissioned to paint a mural in Tokyo, the 16-year-old is thrilled.

In the wake of this excitement is a dangerous treasure hunt, as her father’s clients and the Yamada family become victims of a high-profile art robbery. Someone has stolen sketches by the late, great Vincent van Gogh and is holding it hostage until they receive another missing painting. Very few people have even seen this painting and nobody knows where it is currently hidden.

Violet quickly finds herself in the thick of the mystery and begins searching for the missing painting.

While trying to solve the mystery, Violet struggles to build a relationship with her father, who she barely sees. She handles her father’s mood swings and “artist moments” with great maturity, but still has moments of teenage insecurity where she questions why she’s not good enough to capture her father’s attention. These moments could have Violet appearing spoiled, but her hurt and confusion with her father’s actions are so genuine that the reader can’t help but feel for her.

As the story progresses, Violet grows more confident with herself and her artwork. She uses the medium of comic books to storyboard the mystery and work out clues.

In addition to the book’s protagonist, “Tokyo Heist” also boasts a strong supporting cast in Violet’s father, her friend Reika, and the Yamadas. There are also American and Japanese authorities working to find the missing painting, as well as Japanese yakuza gangsters trying to stop them. All of this makes for an exciting mystery that will have readers guessing until the end. Suspects
By Vikas Swarup
Minotaur Books, 2009

Seven years after he murdered bartender Ruby Gill at a trendy New Delhi restaurant — just because she refused to serve him a drink — Vivek “Vicky” Rai is acquitted of his crime, despite there having been dozens of witnesses.

As the playboy son of a politician, he celebrates his acquittal by throwing a party, but finds his celebration cut short when he is shot and killed. Police recover six party guests with guns, including a corrupt bureaucrat, an American tourist, a stone-age tribesman, a Bollywood sex symbol, a mobile phone thief, and an ambitious politician.

Like in Vikas Swarup’s well received novel, “Slumdog Millionaire,” Swarup’s narrative in “Six Suspects” showcases the many social facets of India, including the struggles of the poor, the less than glamorous side of show business, and the corrupt world of politics. We also learn about each of these characters, how they crossed paths with Vicky Rai, and what led them to bring a gun to his party.

After reading some of the interactions with the late playboy, it’s easy to say that Vicky Rai had it coming.

Swarup doesn’t shy away from showing the disparities between the wealthy and the poor, and how people are treated differently just because of their supposed caste. Swarup’s narrative also shows how poorly women are treated. They are looked down on if they’re not virtuous, yet violated by the men who are supposed to care for them.

“Six Suspects” will keep readers on their toes while trying to figure out who really killed Vicky Rai. Filled with plot twists and double bluffs, readers will find themselves double guessing any and all theories. The killer remains a mystery until the very end.
By Jennifer Hillier
Gallery Books, 2011

After three months of lying, Dr. Sheila Tao, a professor at Puget Sound State University, decides to end her affair with her graduate assistant Ethan Wolfe.

Ethan doesn’t take the news very well and makes it clear that he intends to make her pay for rejecting him in favor of her now fiancé Morris Gardener.

First, Ethan threatens to leak a sex tape they made together onto the Internet. Shelia panics, as her career, and her relationship with Morris, hang in the balance.

Second, Ethan kidnaps her, so he can keep her to himself.

While Shelia plays mouse to Ethan’s cat, Morris suspects that something terrible has happened to her and hires a private investigator to find Shelia after police had determined she left on her own accord.

“Creep” will have readers on the edge of their seats as the story unfolds and the situation becomes dire for Sheila. Throw in a few plot twists and readers won’t know what to think — a sign of a good mystery.

This story is genuinely creepy, but the more we learn more about Ethan and the events which led to his desperate behavior, the more we begin to understand his motives. There are a few tender moments throughout the book and Morris’ continuous search for Sheila shows that even a rough patch in a relationship is not enough to erase his loyalty and devotion to her. I’ve never been big on thrillers, but Hillier has me rethinking. I may have to visit that section of the bookstore more often in the future. (end)

Samantha Park can be reached at

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