Review by Rachel Krueger
Canadian author Claire Huot has lived in China intermittently for the past 20 years, and she so desperately wants you to know it. Her frequent references to obscure Chinese mannerisms and not-chow-mein Chinese dishes in her first stab at fiction, The Prison Tangram, would be interesting if they were germane to the plot. And the plot might survive the constant name-dropping if it added up even a bit. But they aren’t, and it doesn’t.
Rey Pirelli, a rookie Caucasian detective who (conveniently) speaks Mandarin, is assigned to the case of a double murder/suicide/unexplained death in a women’s reform prison (read: resort with bars). Elizabeth Rich, a single-mother in for infanticide who is (coincidentally) obsessed with all things Chinese, and May Ho, also a young murderess who is (befittingly) Chinese, are found dead in separate isolation cells, IN EXACTLY THE SAME POSITION!!! MYSTERIOUS!!!
Or not. Detective Pirelli spends entirely too much time walking her dog and flirting with co-workers in her mind, while the case limps and staggers along. There’s definitely Too Much Info here, and not just like, I don’t want to hear so much about your period or your orgies (which, kind of, I don’t), but TMI as in “Dear Diary, today I had Shreddies for breakfast and then put on my cut-offs and a navy-blue hoodie to go walk the dog.” Not. Interesting. The book is only 200-some pages long; you can’t waste my time like this.
So many irrelevant details snuck into this book, and so many things that I needed to know were never explained. And the sleuthing is ridiculous. No one crumbles and admits what they did just because you decide to “tackle [them] head on” and ask how they did it. No one. The ending is entirely unsatisfactory. Without giving too much away, I’ll just let you know that Pirelli’s dreams help her solve the case. Her dreams! As in, when she’s sleeping! And P.S., nothing is solved. She proves NOTHING in the end. Her entire “solution” is based on hearsay and guesswork! HRACK!
Which might be fine if Pirelli herself was interesting enough to carry the story, but she isn’t. She’s a insecure, prejudiced bitch who assumes that every religious adherent is also a bigot, and that every well-groomed male is gay. She’s totally that friend who’s always saying, “Don’t ask me why I did that,” when dude, I wasn’t going to. Every time you tell me not to ask you why you did that, it just reinforces in my mind how much I don’t care why you did that.
Neither are any of the other characters likeable, or even admirable. All of the prison scenes are filled with such over-the-top, awkwardly badass prison language that it made my brain bleed. It was kind of like reading A Clockwork Orange, only less awesome. Also, one of the other lady-detectives who is Pirelli’s arch-nemesis-but-then-inexplicably-her-friend is described both as “a knock-out” and as wearing a pant-suit. As though those weren’t mutually exclusive.
This whole book is TMI. The plot diversions are distracting and the point-of-view and tense skitter around like scared mice. I was uncomfortable throughout — not as in meeting an ex’s new girlfriend, but as in my mind was wearing too-tight shoes. Hard to read, hard to follow, hard to get into, hard to like.
Rachel Krueger reviews books at booksidoneread.blogspot.com