Snakeskin Shamisen

From Summer of the Big Bachi to Gasa-Gasa Girl, Naomi Hirahara’s acclaimed novels have featured one of mystery fiction’s most unique heroes: Mas Arai, a curmudgeonly L.A. gardener, Hiroshima survivor, and inveterate gambler.

Few things get Mas more excited than gambling, so when he hears about a $500,000 win–from a novelty slot machine!–he’s torn between admiration and derision. But the stakes are quickly raised when the winner, a friend of Mas’s pal G. I. Hasuike, is found stabbed to death just days later. The last thing Mas wants to do is stick his nose in someone else’s business, but at G.I.’s prodding he reluctantly agrees to follow the trail of a battered snakeskin shamisen (a traditional Okinawan musical instrument) left at the scene of the crime…and suddenly finds himself caught up in a dark mystery that reaches from the islands of Okinawa to the streets of L.A.–a world of heartbreaking memories, deception, and murder.

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By Nick (Bellingham, WA) · ★★★☆☆ · March 01, 2013
The dialect spoken by Mas Arai, the unlikely detective in this novel and series, made me cringe--I never have liked any author's use of dialect, and in this case Arai is a striking enough character not to need the distinguishing feature of accented English. Apart from that, this is a fascinating... ...more
By Ashland Mystery (Ashland, OR) · ★★★★☆ · April 26, 2014
Hirahara's protag, Mas Ari is a bit of a curmudgeon, but is really lovely, and loyal to his friends and his community. Humble and dissembling, Mas is observant and often funny without artifice. He's the perfect investigator. In this work, Hirahara addresses the wrongs done to the Okinawan people... ...more
By Michael (Portland, OR) · ★★★☆☆ · September 30, 2014
More concerned with showcasing episodes of Japanese-American history than with coherent plotting, prone to weak metaphor, thick with hard-to-distinguish secondary characters -- and with a clumsy title to boot -- Snakeskin Shamisen is nevertheless a likeable piece of theme detective fiction. The s... ...more
By Doreen (Windsor, CT) · ★★★★☆ · December 07, 2008
I enjoy getting to know more about the characters in this mystery series, especially Mas Arai,survivor of the Atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Snakesskin Shamisen takes place in L.A. where Mas has resided for many years. He is a self-employed gardener,essentially alone; his wife died of cancer and... ...more
By Spuddie (Minneapolis, MN) · ★★★★★ · March 27, 2011
#3 Mas Arai mystery set in LA. Mas, a seventy-something-year-old Japanese-American gardener who is also a Hiroshima bomb survivor, gets sucked into another mystery when a party he's coerced into attending by his friend GI Hasuike to celebrate the Vegas jackpot GI's friend Randy won sports an inte... ...more
By Chris (Decatur, GA) · ★★★★☆ · July 07, 2012
This is the right way to do it. Hirahara had me so invested in the characters and their lives that I kept forgetting about the mystery to be solved.

More than the preceding books, Snakeskin Shamisen works to juxtapose WWII events with world conditions now, prompting some important questions. I lo... ...more
By Daphne · ★★★★☆ · November 06, 2014
The more of this series I read, the more I like Mas Arai and his eclectic group of friends. The mysteries are crucial to the story and at the same time almost irrelevant. I am drawn into another, highly enjoyable, world by this series. ...more
By Jane (Aurora, CO) · ★★★★☆ · January 19, 2011
This is a great series & I love the main character, Mas Arai. I devoured this book in two days. I feel like I'm getting to hang out with my favorite uncle. The only thing I would ask the author to do is to add a small glossary in the book to remind the readers the difference between issei &am... ...more
By Loretta (The United States) · ★★★☆☆ · February 12, 2014
Liked the previous two in the series better. ...more