My NetGalley review:
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review through NetGalley.
This is a book that starts extremely sluggishly but picks up and goes full-throttle until the end, keeping you reading for more to figure out what happens next. I was really slogging through the first bit and was super close to DNF’ing it until a major event finally occurred. The rest of the novel makes up for the slow start.
The Watanabe Name is a thriller/historical fiction about a traditional Japanese family that has some notoriety due to the war. When the patriarch is found dead, the story really unfolds into a thrilling telling around the family itself and who might have wanted him gone.
Those who are familiar with the atrocities around the Japanese occupation will understand references in the book, especially to some heinous, problematic aspects of the occupation.
What I liked:
- If you’re familiar with the Asian family hierarchy, you’ll find that the author does a very good job of illustrating the frustration of respect and the politics around handling traditional relatives. You can really feel yourself getting frustrated on behalf of the different family members (ok, maybe not everyone) for the way that the patriarch handles everything with an iron fist… just like in real life!
- If you’re not familiar with Asian culture, the beginning of the book (albeit a bit slow paced) will be a good introduction and guide you right in to the mentality around decisions made throughout the story, which is incredibly important.
- This book dives into Japanese/Chinese history around the time of the wars earlier in the 20th century. I felt that she did a good job of portraying the situation, including tidbits about some notorious parts of the occupation that were extremely problematic, and tied it into the mystery of who killed the general. I told Mr. Renzol that it was appreciated that she didn’t glaze over or trivialize the treatment of people during the occupation.
- She also did a great job of humanizing all of the characters: most of the characters had reasons for acting the way they did, like being selfish or playing political games to get the desired outcome they’re looking for. I found myself sympathizing with different characters, especially as the mystery unfolded and the killer(s) became obvious.
What I disliked:
- Trigger warning: this is a book that includes portrayal of the occupation by Japan and includes violence, sexual assault, and related topics.
- The first part of the book was extremely slow to me, but it may be because I’m already familiar with the family hierarchy and Asian culture in general, so it was a lot of rehashing of previous knowledge. I felt that some of it could have been shortened, but for Western readers without that background it might be important.
- The time-shifting between the past, near-past, and present was a bit confusing to me. There was a point where I was reading a chapter on the present but first thought it was the near-past and had to double-check what time period the chapter was set in. I would actually like if the author had grouped them together by time periods AND the date to make it easier to follow along.
Who should read this?
If you enjoy an Asian-style thriller mystery with adult content, take a peek at this book! I had a slight inkling of who the killer(s) might have been, but the story was interesting enough to keep me reading until it was confirmed.