Strawberry Yellow by Naomi Hirahara is the fifth book in the Mas Arai traditional mystery series (available March 5, 2013).
Japanese-American Hiroshima survivor, Los Angeles gardener, widower, gambler, grandfather, and solver of crimes, Mas Arai is back in his fifth book. In Strawberry Yellow, he returns to the strawberry farms of his youth and encounters family intrigue, danger, and murder. He returns for the funeral of a cousin and quickly becomes entangled in the murder of a young woman. Was his cousin murdered, too? Mas has to figure out what happened, keep himself safe, and uncover the mystery of the Strawberry Yellow blight and a new strawberry varietal so important that it could be inspiring a murder.
Shug Arai didn’t have any shoulders, or at least it looked like he didn’t have any. So when Mas Arai peered into the satin-lined casket to gaze at the body of his second cousin, one of the few relatives that he had in the United States, he was startled to see that someone—most likely the country mortician—had completely stuffed the top of Shug’s suit jacket à la Jack LaLanne. “Mah—okashii,” Mas’s late wife, Chizuko, would have exclaimed under her breath if she were there at the viewing at the Watsonville mortuary. Funny looking. She would have been right. Even as a young man, Shug had been stooped over, bicep-free. But whatever was missing from his frame was in his brain. Shug was about the smartest man that Mas had known in both Hiroshima and California.
“I wanted the casket lined with strawberries, but the family wouldn’t hear of it.” A rough-hewn voice boomed behind Mas. “In fact, I thought he should be buried in his strawberry plot.”
The familiar voice belonged to a familiar face. Rectangular like a television set, piercing eyes and thick lips. Deep lines were on the forehead and the hair had thinned out and become the texture and color of fishing line. But Mas still could make the ID. “Oily?” he asked.
“Fifty years later, and I still can pick you out from across the room. Glad you were able to make it.” Oily grabbed Mas’s head and hugged it to his chest like a pigskin football. Mas normally wouldn’t have tolerated such behavior, but he was back in his birthplace and the town where he spent his early adult years. He’d allow Oily one hug for old time’s sake. But only one.
[Read the full excerpt of Strawberry Yellow by Naomi Hirahara]