Blood Hina Review
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If you read a lot of mysteries (like I do), you might sometimes get the feeling that mystery writers are stuck in a rut. Their stories often seem to follow the same patterns—with the same characters, too. But the hero in Naomi Hirahara’s Blood Hina is anything but expected.

Mas Arai thinks that his best friend and fellow Hiroshima survivor, Haruo Mukai, is crazy when he decides to get remarried at 71. But Haruo seems so happy with his fiancée, Spoon, that Mas keeps his mouth shut—until he gets a call from Haruo on the morning of the wedding, telling him that the wedding has been called off.

A pair of Japanese hina dolls that once belonged to Spoon’s late husband, Ike, have gone missing—and Spoon’s daughter is convinced that Haruo is to blame. Mas knows that his friend isn’t perfect—in fact, his old gambling addiction drove his first wife away—but Haruo maintains his innocence, and Mas believes him. Now he just has to convince everyone else.

As Mas digs into the case of the missing dolls, though, he finds himself caught up in a deadly mystery that involves everything from World War II Japan to ‘80s drug runners.

Although Blood Hina is Hirahara’s fourth Mas Arai mystery, it still reads like a standalone novel. If you pick up the series here (as I did), you won’t feel the slightest bit lost. Instead, you’ll simply settle right into the story, getting to know the characters as the story unfolds.

The characters are well-developed—and so is the fascinating world in which they live. Hirahara deftly depicts a tight-knit society of Los Angeles gardeners—the men and women who meet each day at the flower market, located just steps away from LA’s overcrowded Skid Row. At the same time, she also offers readers a look at Japanese-American culture, all the way back to the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II. So although the story takes place in present-day LA, it’s also a cultural and even educational experience, all wrapped up in an easy-going mystery.

Mas is a lovable character—just a regular old man who loves flowers and his old Ford truck. He’s not especially spry or quick-witted—and he doesn’t go out looking for mysteries to solve. He’s just a faithful friend who finds himself doing some amateur investigating to help the people he cares about. Because of his laid-back demeanor, though, the story often takes on the same relaxed air—and readers who prefer fast-paced mysteries will find Blood Hina a bit sleepy.

Readers might also find the book’s language distracting. Mas is a man who’s caught in between—between his home country of Japan and the new country where he lives—so his language is a mix of Japanese and English. It feels authentic—and the Japanese words can generally be deciphered in context—but it sometimes distracts attention away from the story.

Still, the uncommon hero and the intriguing story make Blood Hina an enjoyably easy-going mystery—just the thing for anyone who’s looking for a relaxing mystery that’s far from ordinary.

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