Friday, February 3, 2017

G. X. Chen Breaks Stride in Mystery Series to Solve Personal Case...

"You won't believe it, but I'm speechless," Fang Chen burst out as soon as he opened the door and saw Ann Lee, his best friend and crime-solving partner. A biologist by training, Ann had become an amateur detective a decade ago, along with Fang Chen, when their friend Shae Mei was murdered. A petite woman, barely five foot two, she was dressed simply in a white T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. Her shoulder-length hair was black and frizzy, and her almond-shaped eyes were bright and animated, revealing her intelligence and inquisitiveness. She was greeted warmly by Jane, Fang Chen's wife, and their dog, Alex; Ann was Alex's dog-sitter whenever Jane and Fang Chen were traveling.
"What the matter?" Ann asked, looking up at Fang Chen curiously. A chemist and a tenured professor, Fang Chen was an old-fashioned Renaissance man, mild-tempered, bookish, quiet, and somewhat awkward. He wore his hair long, combed over to cover a bald patch on the top of his head. Even at home, he wore his signature uniform: a collared shirt and a pair of dress pants.

"Jim, one of my housemates at BU, has committed suicide," he replied in a thin and edgy voice while leading Ann into his new home, a penthouse in one of the Ritz towers in Boston, He and Jane had bought the unit as soon as they found out she was expecting. Three months before the baby was due, they had closed the deal and moved into their permanent home, a beautifully designed corner unit that had floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlooking Boston Common, the State House and the Charles River.
"He's been in such a state since I woke up this morning," Jane told Ann while rolling her eyes. Jane Tian, Ann's roommate for two years, was a cheerful young woman with a ready smile. Slim and tall, she had a straight, delicate nose and a pair of big expressive eyes on a heart-shaped face. Her chin was a bit short and weak, but her lips were full. When she smiled, her face bloomed into a spring flower, sweet and radiant. More than thirty weeks into her pregnancy, she had some difficulty as she bent down and picked up the dog, putting him on the couch.
"Because he wasn't the type," Fan Chen explained. He waited until the dog was comfortable before sitting down next to him. Alex was getting so old that he was no longer able to jump up to the couch or get down without help. "He was an accomplished scientist, clear minded and rational. It's almost impossible that he'd commit suicide." In fact, Fang Chen was so stunned that he had thought the e-mail was a joke. "It's totally out of his character."
"How do you know that he committed suicide?" Ann Asked.
"He e-mailed me before killing himself," Fang Chen said, bewildered.
Ann was surprised. "Did he tell you why he had to commit suicide?"
"No." Fang Chen shook his head, a bit hesitantly. In his farewell e-mail, Jim had revealed nothing but said he was sorry that he had to do what he had to do. Shocked and confused, Fang Chen had tried fanatically to reach him but failed. Soon, the news from California confirmed the unthinkable--Jim was dead, hung in a closet with a belt and found by one of his children. Fang Chen was notified by the youngest of the three and his godson, Tim.

An Intangible Affair:
Book Four Back Bay Investigation

See Reviews of the first three books in series:

By G. X. Chen


When two amateur investigators are confronted with the suicide of a good friend of Fang Chen, Ann Lee quickly began to try to pull more information out of her partner... Somebody does not normally commit suicide without a reason, yet Fang Chen had no reason to offer, even though the friend, Jim Teng, had written an e-mail to him just before he had killed himself.

Chen has taken a step away from the more complex mysteries she has provided us in this series, to take on the death of a personal friend of Fang Chen, who had just committed suicide. Fang Chen is stunned by the news and seems unable to just put it aside...wanting to know what had happened...

He had already known, for instance, that Jim's wife Dory had died recently, but he also knew that she had cancer and her life's length had been shortened, so that when she died, Feng Chen had already begun to anticipate it and felt that Jim also would have been prepared...

Then the two amateur detectives were shocked to learn that Dory, had died from a snake bite and its deadly poison had been the cause. Since the snake was not indigenous to the locale, it soon was believed that she had been murdered... Surely Jim would not have murdered her, knowing she was soon to have died... And why would that have led to his own suicide?

There had to be something else...

But Feng Chen had known one other thing about Jim's life... and readers do, too, since the blurb and the start of the book, places us in the life of Jamie Chou. She has been Jim's lover for the last two decades...

Awakened to a mystery by the third party involvement, Feng Chen begins to share about Jim's life, while Ann Lee asks the important leading questions. Essentially, what this results in is a family drama that becomes more and more complex as we learn of Jim's early relationship with Jamie Chou. And then a later chance meeting that brought them back together...

I wondered about the title, An Intangible Affair. Was this meant to mean that the affair really didn't exist in one or the other of the couple's mind? Was Jim merely having a fling whenever he could get away from his family? Or vice-versa, was Jamie merely using Jim as a rebound after breaking up with the man she'd been living with?

Chen takes readers deep into the dynamic lives of the three people involved in a long-term marital affair, exploring what happens to the minds of the two who are actually living the pretend life... 

No matter how you might feel about the legality of the triangle, Chen has brilliantly explored the passion, the anger, the fears, and, too, the apathy that slowly creeps in as personal desires are subjugated by another individual, whether purposely or by happenstance... This move from the author from true mystery to drama may be a break from the norm or merely a diversion from the series since there is not as much mystery to the story... Nevertheless, it does show a broader scope of character development and a different perspective of characters that we haven't previously found in the mysteries series.

What it may reflect is a potential expansion of the author's future work in more literary activities and away from just one genre. If I were to comment on my own thoughts, I would say that I'd like to have seen this book as, perhaps, a new different series, since I did miss the delightful mystery component found in her previous books, while finding this more romantic tale quite compelling...

However, this book easily stands alone as an intriguing, romantic suspense, that will pull readers into the lives of the two main characters. I was caught with feelings of empathy, sympathy, and anger that communication was at the roots of what happened...Chen forces readers to wonder what they would be willing to do in what appears to be a true loving relationship... Highly recommended!


G.X. Chen, author of the Back Bay Investigation mystery series and other novels, is a freelance writer and a graduate of Fudan University and University of New Mexico. She has taught literature at Fudan as well as the Shanghai Foreign Language Institute. A world traveler and an amateur photographer, she lives in the beautiful city of Boston with husband, Steve.

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