Title: Ink and Ashes
Author: Valynne E. Maetani
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery, Romance, Action/Adventure/Thriller
Publisher: Tu Books
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now
Summary: Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away when she was a little girl. But on the anniversary of his death, not long before her seventeenth birthday, she finds a mysterious letter from her deceased father, addressed to her stepfather. Claire never even knew that they had met.
Claire knows she should let it go, but she can’t shake the feeling that something’s been kept from her. In search of answers, Claire combs through anything that will give her information about her father . . . until she discovers he was a member of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed.
So begins the race to outrun his legacy as the secrets of her father’s past threaten Claire’s friends and family, newfound love, and ultimately her life. Ink and Ashes, winner of Tu Books’ New Visions Award, is a heart-stopping debut mystery that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very last page.
Review: I knew from the moment I read the summary that I needed to get my hands on Ink and Ashes, and I’m pleased to say that Valynne E. Maetani’s debut novel did not disappoint me.
For me, an integral part of a mystery is making me anxious for the characters, and Maetani did an excellent job keeping me on the edge of my seat. As Claire continued to dig deeper and deeper into the mysteries surrounding her father, the more the danger ramped up. Maetani used different types of suspense so the audience didn’t get bored with repetition: sneaking around places to pick locks, being followed, unnerving threats, car chases, etc. The different types of dangers made it hard to predict what kind of obstacles Claire, her friends, and her family would face, and that made the read all the more engaging.
The actual mysteries were complicated, and I loved watching Claire throw herself into solving them. It was great to see her brothers, friends, and eventually parents rally around her, but I particularly liked the glimpses we got into the less glamourous side of mystery solving, like painstakingly typing a letter written in Japanese into an internet translator or trying to figure out how to order an autopsy report.
The romance between Claire and Forrest was nicely interwoven with the main mystery plot. I’m always a sucker for best friends turning into something more, and Maetani generally did a great job of keeping me engaged in the romance without letting all of the tension out of the mystery. (I will note a bit of disappointment that it took so long for things to start getting dangerous—based on the summary, I was expecting potential deadly situations to show up sooner.) Claire and Forrest were a great team, and their concern for and support of each other made it easy to root for them.
While Ink and Ashes had a nicely fleshed out supporting cast (I was particularly fond of Claire’s stepfather and Fed), there were very few women in the book overall. Claire easily spent more time interacting with her stepfather than her mother, and her friends on the soccer team barely appeared in the story. Her core investigative team—five people in addition to herself—was entirely boys. I wish Claire had had a close girl friend to do some mystery solving with.
Recommendation: Get it soon, especially if you like stories about uncovering family secrets. While there are a few flaws in Maetani’s debut, Ink and Ashes is a fun, compelling mystery. The book balances its genres well and is anchored by an inquisitive and determined heroine. Tu Books has published some amazing novels, and Ink and Ashes is one of them.