I went through a phase in elementary school where all I’d ever read was a series called “The Boxcar Children.” It’s a very old chapter book mystery series starring four siblings investigating strange things that happened in their town, and I devoured those books eagerly.
So what better book for me to read now than “The Verifiers,” Jane Pek’s debut novel about a queer Chinese American woman in STEM trying to solve the mystery of a client’s suspicious death?
Claudia Lin is an employee at Veracity, a detective-agency-slash-dating-app, investigating whether people’s matches are telling the truth about themselves. This job and her life in general defy all of her family’s wishes — her mother wants her to have a stable career and marry a nice Chinese boy, but not only does she work for a secret company, she’s also a lesbian.
But soon, Claudia has more than just her immigrant mother’s expectations to deal with. A Veracity client is found dead, and Claudia suspects foul play. As she starts to investigate, she finds more and more incriminating evidence, not just about the murder but also about the many dating apps Veracity competes with.
This is, as you may be able to tell, a lot. I went into this story expecting a fun little mystery, something like “Arsenic and Adobo,” but instead, I was launched into the realities of dating app hell, with a side of Chinese family expectations.
Pek calls into question the culture of dating apps and how far they can go to keep their users, crafting a world in which dozens of highly similar online dating services compete with each other. What is the meaning of romantic love when it’s been distilled by corporations?
And as for the family part — Claudia’s family is quite imperfect. She and her siblings vie for their single mother’s attention, jealousy stirring between all of them, but at the end of the day, they love each other. This B-plot of “The Verifiers” was actually the part I was most drawn to. What can I say? I’m a sucker for stories about the Chinese diaspora.
Claudia is also a very flawed detective, which is actually much more realistic than most mystery novels tend to be. She makes many mistakes, does not understand the law whatsoever and relies mostly on her knowledge of a mystery novel series called “Inspector Yuan” in order to figure out the situation. This may leave some readers frustrated, but I was perfectly okay with it because it made Claudia seem more real to me.
I also have to commend Pek’s writing style. The prose is at once very literary and extremely funny; I have countless one-liners highlighted in my ebook copy. This is the kind of writing I’d expect from someone like Pek, who is a lawyer by day, and I absolutely love it.
And a refreshing aspect of this book I didn’t expect: Claudia does not have a love interest. She’s very confident in her sexuality (or, at least, her lack of attraction to men), but the story isn’t weighed down by an unnecessary romantic subplot. Frankly, there’s too much going on for her to be dating, despite or perhaps because of the fact that she literally works for a dating app. That being said, this story does set up for a sequel, and it does seem that she may have an inkling of a crush on someone at the end, so I’m very excited to see where it goes.
“The Verifiers” comes out on Feb. 22, 2022. I received an advanced copy from the publisher, Vintage, in exchange for an honest review.