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By Sujata Massey

HarperCollins, August 2004
ISBN: 0-06-621296-0

Reviewed by Cherie Jung

Rei Shimura returns in her seventh adventure, or perhaps, "misadventure" might be a better term.

Recently banned from her adopted country, Japan, Rei is floundering in Washington, D.C. trying to figure out what to do next with her life. The pressures of that American city quickly take their toll on her. As Rei tries to adjust to her situation, which includes an engagement to longtime lover, Hugh Glendinning (the handsome Scottish lawyer fans will remember from previous novels), the arrival of Aunt Norie to plan the wedding, and complications with relatives that Rei barely knows, she takes on a job that seems to bring out the worst in everyone connected to it.

Rei uses her connections in Japan and merchandise from her own antiques warehouse to decorate a new upscale restaurant called Bento. Bento is the term for a Japanese style "box lunch," although the restaurant isn't really about box lunches. The owner and the head chef have grander ideas for the restaurant than simple lunches even though the restaurant is located on the edge of an unsavory area which may cause potential customers to stay away.

Against the advice of Hugh, Rei becomes involved with one of the restaurant employee's troubles. As she struggles to unravel the mysterious disappearance of a woman some 30 years ago, Rei's life takes several twists and turns that she never anticipated.

The author blends a bit of politics, rivalry between competing restaurants, a missing woman, and the Vietnam war into a complex, if not altogether satisfying tale.

I found the latest installment in the on-again, off-again romance between Rei and Hugh to be interesting although I have my doubts about the suitability of the two for each other. I personally would prefer they continue to be on-again off-again as opposed to anything else.

I hate the Washington, D.C. setting. (I completely understand Rei's dislike of the city.) If Rei can't be in Japan, I hope the author will move her back to San Francisco. I like San Francisco. Or maybe she could move to Seattle, Washington. I like Seattle...

The bright spot in this novel was Aunt Norie. She was refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable. Without her, I would have put the book aside without finishing it.

While I continue to enjoy the author's writing style and crisp dialogue, I didn't find the storyline satisfying. I felt the new characters, including Rei's American relatives, were quite unsympathetic. To be honest, I really didn't care if the mystery of the missing woman was ever resolved, nor did I care if any of the various characters met an untimely death. (Except for dear Aunt Norie, as I mentioned earlier, and for Rei who is needed for the next novel.)

Longtime fans of this series may enjoy this book however, first time readers may want to acquaint themselves with Rei (and Hugh and Aunt Norie) by reading the earlier books in the series first.

Would you like to read a review of any of these other titles in the Rei Shimura series? THE SAMURAI'S DAUGHTER, THE BRIDE'S KIMONO, THE FLOATING GIRL, THE FLOWER MASTER, ZEN ATTITUDE, THE SALARYMAN'S WIFE.

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