Book reviews: A novel with a brutal beginning has a redemptive and touching end

Mika Suzuki is a directionless 35-year-old Japanese woman with a big secret: she had her daughter adopted at 19.

Emiko Jean’s latest novel, “Mika in real life”, by Emiko Jean, takes place as Mika goes through a major transformation, starting with reconnecting with her daughter, Penny. Eventually, Mika must come to terms with the events that led her to be a hopelessly single, constantly laid-off disappointment to her mother, and figure out how to have a relationship with her own child who she hasn’t spoken to since the day Penny was born.

In an effort not to look like such a loser, Mika begins to weave a tapestry of lies to create Mika’s life 2.0; who she wants to be and perhaps could have been. Mika gives his life an undeserved glow that will certainly explode in his face.

It’s hard to appreciate when things are going well for Mika because you know all the sugar glass will sooner or later shatter. All the while, you’re thinking of ways to make Mika clear, because that’s the only obvious solution from the start. Mika’s reasons for lying in the first place aren’t particularly compelling anyway.

Luckily, this train wreck only takes up about a third of the book before moving on to greener pastures. The novel picks up when Jean reveals Mika in real life – not just an honest Mika, but a better, rounder character. She is more believable.

When Mika decides to be honest with herself and with others, she begins to manage her life. “Mika in Real Life” explores universal issues – like finding happiness and the challenges of parenting – as well as nuanced issues, like the Suzuki family’s particular strains of trauma: his mother being uprooted in a foreign land, the Mika’s own experiences that led to her pregnancy and abandonment of art, and Penny’s pursuit of her identity as a Japanese-American raised by white parents in Ohio.

The Mika of the second half of the book makes the company much more enjoyable. She’s not perfect but has some semblance of balance in her life and strives to be someone and do something.

I am grateful for Jean’s tenacity as it is worth going through the difficult beginning to get the redemptive and touching end of the novel. “Mika in Real Life” has a heart, and it touched mine.

Review: A hero grappling with a mystery readers can solve

Lucas Page retired from the FBI over a decade ago after losing an eye, an arm and a leg in an explosion. But Lucas is a man of unique talents, so again – in “Do no harm,” the third book of Robert Pobi’s series — the office needs his help.

This time he is paired again with Special Agent Alice Whitaker who, due to an incident in their last case, is walking with a cane. Meanwhile, Page’s upstairs neighbor is a double amputee, and another major character, NYPD Detective Johnny Russo, has a glass eye.

The abundance of shredded body parts sounds far-fetched, but Pobi strikes a deadly serious tone with the plot, leaving readers unsure whether to laugh with him or at him.

The plot unfolds when Lucas, a polymath capable of identifying patterns in vast collections of data, notices that an inexplicably high number of doctors in New York are dying. However, readers may find it odd that a genius was needed to spot this.

The deaths have been attributed to various causes, including accidents, drug overdoses, and suicides, but Lucas’ statistical analysis concludes that they were murdered. After launching his investigation, he discovers that a handful of people have been arrested recently for trying to kill doctors. However, none of them seem to have a motive.

Wanton murder attempts? What could possibly happen? Pobi intrigues Lucas about it until the genie finally comes to light on page 266. Anyone who’s seen Alfred Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train” – which includes almost anyone who reads mystery novels – l would have spotted right away. It’s the old you-do-my-kill-and-I-do-yours trope. However, in the film, there was only one murder. In “Do No Harm”, it happens on a grand scale.

Once Lucas figures this out, he spends the rest of the book solving a mystery better suited to his talents: who organized large numbers of people to trade murders, and why?

Lucas’ complete lack of social skills is oddly endearing, his ability to deal with his physical limitations makes him a compelling character, and Pobi is an eccentric and talented writer.

However, the author tries too hard to be clever, cluttering his prose with technical names for everyday things and bombarding readers with historical references and popular culture. Within a few pages, for example, he throws in references to Ferris Bueller, Albert Speer, Tom Waits, Nietzsche, Harvey Keitel, Zarathustra, and George and Weezie from “The Jeffersons.” He should cut that.

Alycia R. Lindley