cover image Snakeskin Shamisen: A Mas Arai Mystery

Snakeskin Shamisen: A Mas Arai Mystery

Naomi Hirahara, . . Delta, $12 (255pp) ISBN 978-0-385-33961-2

In youth-obsessed Los Angeles, maturity and reticence work in favor of the 70ish gardener Mas Arai, Hirahara's reluctant hero, as he gets drawn into his highly enjoyable third mystery (after 2005's Gasa-Gasa Girl ). Mas leaves a party held for a friend at a Hawaiian restaurant early, but when the guest of honor turns up dead, Mas has to return to the restaurant to answer questions about anything suspicious he might have observed. A broken shamisen (a stringed instrument similar to a banjo) found at the crime scene, he realizes, indicates that the seeds of the murder were sown in Okinawa during WWII. As a Hiroshima survivor, Mas has his misgivings about examining the past too closely, but his strong sense of right and wrong propels him toward a just resolution. Hirahara's sharp ear for dialogue and keen sense of place mark this as a superior read, but it's her intimate view of the Japanese-American community and her wry portrait of the endearing Mas, with his fondness for gambling and Spam, that really make this series stand out. (May)