One of the pleasures of running book groups is getting to put together selections of books for the group to read for the following month. One of the drawbacks of running book groups is that sometimes the group doesn’t pick the book you wish they would. That happened this month: I offered the Field of Mystery Group the book The Verifiers, by Jane Pek, and they didn’t choose it. So I ended up reading it myself, and what a fun read it was.
Start with the premise: our main character, Claudia, is working for an agency that checks out the backgrounds of people on dating services. If you’re matched up with someone through an online service and you feel there’s something iffy about the person, you would go to this agency, the Verifiers, and they would investigate whether the person is what they pretend to be online. Isn’t that a great premise for a mystery? Think of all the ways in which people lie and what might be behind the deceits.
But it gets better, and part of that is because of Claudia, our protagonist. Claudia has secrets of her own, not terrible ones, but ones that loom fairly large when she considers her family. She’s not looking for a nice Chinese boyfriend, as her mother wants: she’s gay and she hasn’t outed herself ro her traditional (if quirky) family. She left the corporate job her older brother got for her through his connections, and instead is working for this agency, where secrecy and confidentiality are bywords, and where she is not making the kind of money her brother hoped she would. Her family – mother, sister and brother – is a big part of her life, whether she likes it or not, and she’s aware that she’s lying to them pretty much all the time.
Claudia has a degree in English, and she is a major fan of mysteries, especially a (fictitious) series starring one Inspector Yuan, to which she refers frequently over the course of the book. She delights in the idea that she’s following in the footsteps of this Inspector Yuan (and for the record, based on what she mentions about those books, I would absolutely read the whole series), and bases her (sometimes less than great) decisions on what he would do in the circumstances.
The plot begins when a young woman comes to the agency to find out why a particular date started ghosting her, and then asks the agency to look into the background of another person who dated her but who seemed to be hiding something. Of course the second person IS hiding something, as Claudia quickly discovers, but the first date, the one the client never even met, is more interesting still. Claudia is much more fascinated with this case than either of her bosses are (always a red flag), and when they discover that the client died suddenly, an apparent suicide, the bosses want to close the files, but Claudia is really hooked and, true to her deep genre knowledge, wants to find out if this was really a suicide.
One thing leads to another, and Claudia finds herself investigating that suspicious death and some other odd things that are going on in the online dating industry, including the use of bots pretending to be potential suitors. Despite the discouragement from her bosses, she persists in digging deeper and deeper into the question of who that client was (and of course, the client wasn’t exactly who she pretended to be), what the client was really doing, and who caused the client’s death. All the while, Claudia is also dealing with her family’s demands on her, and the general complications of living and working in New York City.
The book is fast moving, the mystery is original, the characters are believable if slightly off, and all in all, it was great fun to read. I couldn’t put it down, and I devoutly hope that the hint at the end of the book that there might be more to come is a promise. I’d be delighted to read more of Claudia’s exploits if they’re as entertaining as these.
Check it out if you’re in the mood for a mystery that’s not gory or excessively violent, that pulls you right in with a wonderful character with a great voice and keeps you going to the very end.