99 Ways to Die
PublisherSoho Press
Date Published11 October 2018
Price£ 22.99

99 Ways to Die

by Ed Lin

Chan Jing-nan becomes involved when his friend Peggy’s father is kidnapped and threatened with death if he doesn’t hand over a new computer chip.


This is the third adventure for Jing-nan, who runs the Unknown Pleasures food stall at a night market in Taipei with two good friends Frankie the Cat and Dwane. Jing-nan assumes the character of the ebullient Johnny to cajole locals and tourists alike to sample the food on offer, which strongly features cow entrails, although as the book opens he is contemplating an innovative vegetarian option.
Domestic affairs take a back seat when the TV announces the kidnap of wealthy local businessman Tong-tong, the father of Jing-nan’s old school friend Peggy. The kidnappers threaten to shoot Tong-tong or an employee held with him unless a revolutionary new computer chip is handed over. Peggy turns up at the stall with two tame police in tow, who display little initiative, although Peggy has some ideas.
Jing-nan is persuaded to visit Ah-tien, the man who developed the chip, who’s now incarcerated for bribery and corruption. While Ah-tien is not able to supply the chip, he provides a name and a line of investigation. Jing-nan is eventually exposed to considerable risk, but luck and a bit of quick thinking, combined with the efforts of his girlfriend Nancy and the staff of the stall, save the day.
The plots of the Taipei Night Market novels have always been a little dubious, and this latest seems even more random than usual, with developments apparently designed to highlight features of life in Taipei. These remain of some interest although the author cannot expect to rely on local colour alone to sustain an extended series.
In the meantime, however, there is plenty to amuse. The unfamiliar foodstuffs are of interest, although lengthy sections on the washing of animal intestines will not suit everyone. Enthusiasm for the latest in communications technology and avid attention paid to the media promote fast-moving gossip, an entertaining blend of the old and new. Endless fascination with money and those who command large amounts of it come across as a local preoccupation.
For those unfamiliar with Taiwan, there is a section explaining the complex cultural mix, comprising the original Aborigine residents, and the groups who came later from the mainland in distinct waves. The different attitudes of each of these sections is explored, along with the frictions that bubble along under the surface.
The latest wave comprises those from other parts of Asia, primarily economic migrants, who suffer much as immigrants in the rest of the world. Their plight is explored here when the liberated Tong-tong blames outsiders for his plight, leading to serious assaults on those who look or speak differently. It seems that the Chinese can be just as prejudiced as the rest of us.

Reviewed 11 May 2019 by Chris Roberts