A Cup Full of Midnight by Jaden Terrell

September 1, 2014 2 comments

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Having had some issues with the narrative pacing of the first in the series, I metaphorically pick up a digital copy of A Cup Full of Midnight by Jaden Terrell (Permanent Press, 2012) featuring ex-cop and now PI Jared McKean. This continues in the best raditions of a serial with characters who were slightly less prominent in the first book, now stepping into the limelight. This time, the focus of attention is Josh, our hero’s nephew. Much to the despair (if not anger of his father), the young sprog comes out as gay and, to add insult to injury, becomes involved with the Goth scene. Except, even this version of the Goth scene is tainted with darker colours as he moves into the world of vampires, witches and others who claim some kind of supernatural status or powers. This leads to him becoming involved with a manipulative man who claims to be a real vampire. A short while after the young man loses his appeal, said vampire is killed in what seems to have been a ritualistic way. Except it’s not at all clear what the ritual might have been, so mixed up is all the symbology. What’s particularly clear is the depth of anger in the killing. Normally, this would not be a problem, but the sprog and a young woman were in the neighbourhood about the time and, worse, the young girl makes a generalised confession that she was responsible for the death. When two less than caring police officers come to interview the sprog, they frighten him and he attempts suicide. This inspires McKean to investigate. He may have thought the man deserved to die for abusing minors, but the suggestion his nephew might have had something to do with it passes a red line.

Jared (Beth) Terrell

Jared (Beth) Terrell

So this book adheres more closely to the optimal PI narrative pacing model. We have a gentle introduction to the problem and then our PI sets off to investigate. The first hurdle he meets is the number of people the victim had angered in his relatively short lifetime. It was probably something he worked at consciously, seeing how far he could push a real talent for upsetting others. One person describes the victim as a man who’d dipped into the Great Darkness and scooped out a cup full of midnight. So whether it was others in the Goth scene, or the gay scene, or the parents of the young kids he slept with, or the locals in the neighborhood where he lived, there were probably a lot of people waiting in line for their chance to kill him. Anyway, after doing the first round of talking with all the possibles, he knows he’s on the right track because someone with supernatural powers materialises a rattlesnake in his truck in that cold interstitial period before Christmas becomes New Year.

Very much as the first book, this is primarily interested in relationships. You may think you know people, but even those you’ve known for years can surprise you. Take your best friend who’s dying of AIDS. He has a steady boyfriend but he’s prepared to sacrifice that relationship to help an ex-boyfriend who’s that much closer to death. It’s all about priorities and the sacrifices you’re prepared to take to help others or just fit in with the crowd. That’s why Josh is something of an enigma. This is a boy McKean has known from birth, except just how well does he know him? It’s not just a simple matter of him running with the wrong crowd, meeting up with them on a casual basis. He’d been a willing catamite for the victim and who can be entirely sure what he might have done while under that man’s influence. The result as described here is full of resolutions (it’s almost New Year, after all). Some of these endings are tragic, others merely sad. For those left standing, life goes on for now but little in life is ever certain. A traffic accident or some other unexpected event could end it tomorrow. The young never have enough experience to understand how short their lives are. The older people have enough experience to be able to live with the knowledge they will die one day (some sooner than others).

A Cup Full of Midnight turns out to be something of a tour-de-force. The pacing is just right and, more importantly, the people ring true. No matter whether we’re dealing with the more extreme or marginalised members of society, or those whose middle class status is supposed to make them more law-abiding and less dangerous, everyone reacts in the moment. It’s the fallibility of humanity that everyone can be tempted or manipulated into doing the wrong thing. All it takes is someone with sufficient insight and determination to cause chaos, and the world can fall apart. Then it takes someone like McKean to help stick plaster on the wounds and hope people can recover. If that means, sometimes, he has to look the other way, that’s a price worth paying to protect the weak and vulnerable from doing further damage to themselves. Protect and serve doesn’t just apply to police officers. It also applies to PIs and concerned citizens like McKean. Overall, this is an impressive character study and recommended.

For a review of the first in the series, see Racing the Devil.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Racing the Devil by Jaden Terrell

August 31, 2014 1 comment

Racing-the-Devil-Jared-Mckean--910949-a666f0d661e8086f4655

When putting together a PI novel with thriller pretensions, one of the key considerations is narrative pacing. Not to put too fine a point on it, if a reader is expecting action, being slow to introduce it will result in boredom and a switch-off. But equally, having non-stop action can become tedious. Even in the most high-adrenaline adventures, people do take short breathers. So, for example, the James Bond franchise has developed the introductory blast of action lasting five to ten minutes. This captures the attention of viewers by showing a sample of what they can expect when they get to the climax. The plot proper can then begin and slowly escalate up to said climax when all the major stunts are played out. This reflects the general danger that if events are flashing by too quickly, neither viewers nor readers may gain a clear understanding of what’s happening. Of course, cultural anthropologists may suggest Western people with digital inputs are developing very short attention spans and need constant restimulation if they are going to reach the end of the film or book. This may persuade authors to aim for a mini-cliffhanger at the end of every chapter to persuade readers to turn the pages more quickly to resolve their feelings of fear and anxiety. But the dilemma for authors could not be more clearly seen than in Racing the Devil by Jaden Terrell (Permanent Press, 2012).

Jared (Beth) Terrell

Jared (Beth) Terrell

This is the first of the Jared McKean mysteries. He has an eight-year-old son with Down Syndrome, an ex-wife, and an array of very interesting and supportive friends. The opening sixty or so pages of this book flash by with incidents of note occurring on a regular basis. So: goes into pub, meets woman who has been battered and seems in need of protection; has sex with said woman; wakes up to find himself framed for a murder; makes a bad decision, and is arrested; is beaten up in prison; and then has time to draw breath when his friends bail him out. Now he can begin trying to discover who the mastermind is. Yet even at this early stage, there are problems. To take but two examples, he’s fuzzy when he wakes up after being drugged, but that’s no reason to leave his vehicle untouched. Anyone who thinks someone may be framing them should take the chance to search the vehicle to see whether there’s any other evidence left to be found. To walk away is simply idiotic (or perhaps it isn’t, who knows?). It’s also strange, given the victim apparently kept a diary of where she met the fake McKean, that the real deal does not try to prove the negatives, i.e. that he was not present at all those times. Ah well, you don’t read these books for their logic.

So having our hero back on the mean streets, he has to earn enough to pay the bills and investigate who’s set him up. Although we continue to make progress, the pace now drops quite dramatically (as you would expect). So we’re trying to interview the neighbours and then off to see the deceased’s sister for a little horse massage (no, really, all he does is rub the horse). As the investigation proceeds, we get time for friends and, more importantly, family as he meets his newly-pregnant ex and her new husband on the occasion of his son’s eighth birthday. Indeed, one of the features of this book is the time devoted to exploring this PI’s psychology through the extended backstory that emerges. This makes the book slightly nonstandard. In the conventional PI novel, our noirish protagonist gets out there to investigate. He gets hit a few times, and hands out a beating when it’s deserved or in self-defence. There’s at least one dame that he falls for but, more often than not, she proves unsuitable for one reason or another. This leaves him alone at the end of the book. But Jared McKean is instinctively both a loyal friend and a “family man”. Under normal circumstances, this would mean he lives a suburban life with wife and children. Except his life has not been kind to him. He was married and they have a disabled son whom they both continue to love. He currently shares accommodation with a gay man, but their relationship is entirely platonic. Our hero is straight, but a strong friend. In other words, this hero can only be understood by watching the way in which his relationships ebb and flow. This makes the book distinctly more interesting to read than many more conventional PI novels. Thus, although I might have preferred some of the plot elements to be a little more tightly put together, Racing the Devil proves to be a highly engaging read with a reasonably satisfying explanation of why our hero is the one chosen to be framed, and what the broader motivations are. It will be interesting to see if later books in this series improve on this opening novel.

For a review of other books by Jaden Terrell, see A Cup Full of Midnight.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 10 and 11

Zettai_Reido

Episode 10 of Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) goes back only one year to 2009 where two academics entering a research lab find one of their colleagues dead and a man standing over the body with blood on his hands. This man flees and falls to his death down a flight of stairs. Even though no weapon was found at the scene, the case is assumed solved until the knife used as the murder weapon is found in the river thirty minutes drive from the university. Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto) and Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama) set off to the university where they discover the victim was not the best liked individual (probably because he was stealing research from his colleagues). He also antagonised the alleged murderer who was working as a bartender. A search of the lab where they study genetic engineering shows the victim had surveillance equipment in place and so could spy on what everyone else was doing. This helped him discover one of the other workers was taking kickbacks from commercial organisations to monitor the work. He was also apparently blackmailing a female researcher who was sleeping with the professor in charge. This female researcher then admits to the murder. Izumi Sakuragi is convinced there’s something wrong and so begins her own investigation to find out who this woman is and why she might have been provoked into murder. What she finds pivots the case into a different direction. At one level, this then stops being a police procedural inquiring into a murder, and becomes a more meditative and sad story about relationships.

Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura) investigate on the ground

Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura) investigate on the ground

The eleventh and last case in this series is the murder of a police detective in 1998. A forensic analysis of the scene of the crime by Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura), suggests there were at least two shooters although only one gun has been recovered. Naturally, while all the other detectives decide to chase around the city looking for people who might have had a grudge against the detective, Izumi Sakuragi prefers to think about the detective and his family. It seems the detective’s young son had a heart problem. Fortunately, after treatment, he’s able to follow his father’s interest in baseball. Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto) interviews the widow and gets an indication all was not entirely well in their relationship. Ryoko Takamine (Sayaka Yamaguchi) goes to interview the mother of the man who was suspected of the murder but never found. Because this is an older case, it gives more chance for Shintaro Shiraishi (Takeo Nakahara) to shine. In an ensemble piece like this, everyone has to be allowed a moment to show their acting range. This time, the relationship between the older detective and the homicide team where he used to work becomes significant. The mechanism in play here is obvious from an early point, but the episode stays just on the right side of sentimentality (again) as Izumi Sakuragi gets friendly with the detective’s son, now twelve, and Shintaro Shiraishi gets to chew over old times with his ex-partner. Adding grist to the mill, Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako) has earned promotion to the homicide division and will be leaving the unit with the end of this case. So, no matter how things turn out, the unit as a family is going to be broken. This leads Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji) to ask Izumi Sakuragi if she has decided what kind of detective she wants to be.

Shintaro Shiraishi (Takeo Nakahara)

Shintaro Shiraishi (Takeo Nakahara)

So when you put all this together, the series turns out rather different from the American Cold Case model. Despite their similarities in having both a female lead and flashback sequences to show what was going on in the past, this series is rather more focused on the psychological implications of each investigation, both on the detectives and those with whom they interact. This makes the show existentialist in spirit, whereas the US model is self-contained mysteries to be solved with minimal consideration of the consequences flowing from the investigations. On balance, I prefer the Japanese approach although I’m slightly less convinced by some of the characters in the team. Aya Ueto is never less than interesting as Izumi Sakuragi, but I’m not entirely sure she’s sufficiently worldly to have reached the rank of Sergeant in the unforgivingly sexist environment of the police force. She’s extraordinarily innocent. In one sense, I suppose, this explains why she’s successful. She concerns herself with the people, using her own empathetic sense to work out what they might have been thinking or doing in the past. But empathy is not much good unless you have been exposed to many different types of people, sometimes in stressful situations. Similarly, Hiroyuki Miyasako as Keigo Tsukamoto portrays a rather unsophisticated, sexist man who, despite being reasonably passionate about the work, never strikes me as having the intellectual ability to earn promotion. The others, however, make up for this with a general sense of competence prevailing. This makes Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) very watchable.

For a review of other episodes, see:
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 1 and 2
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 3 and 4
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 5 and 6
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 7 to 9.

Morningside Fall by Jay Posey

August 28, 2014 2 comments

Morningside Fall by Jay Posey

Morningside Fall by Jay Posey (Angry Robot, 2014) Legends of the Duskwalker 2 follows on from Three with the young boy Wren now the Governor of Morningside. The title to the book is a spoiler in its own right because it announces that this citadel that’s stood against the Weir for a significant period of time is not going to do all that well as the pages turn. So this is a book that straddles a number of rather different genres. At its heart, this is a political thriller which examines how a self-contained group of people that has been in a stable situation should react when their autocratic leader is removed. The senior citizens who had been in a supporting role now find themselves as council members with a young boy nominally in charge. Unfortunately, one of this boy’s first instructions is to allow the people who had been living outside the city to take up residence. Worse, he has been awakening some of the Weir and expecting the city dwellers to accept these “people” as safe to live alongside them. The general rule is that people don’t respond well to change. Those who now have more obvious routes to power might be inclined to plot against the boy. Those on the streets might take it personally if outsiders start moving into accommodation next to them.

 

Secondly, this is a science fiction, post apocalypse novel. We still have absolutely no idea what precisely has gone wrong with this world but we seem to have a rump of humanity surviving in fortified cities (although, in the first book, we did meet one community surviving outside without walls) and under threat from the Weir. Now these are not simple zombie-like creatures. They retain some level of purpose and can also communicate with each other. Indeed, under certain circumstances, they are capable of co-ordinated action. There are also a small number of human mutants such as Wren who has a natural ability to interface with electronic systems and he can reawaken the human personality of a Weir. When awakened, he or she will retain the changed body and, depending on the length of time between turning and reawakening, it’s possible for the personality to return almost unchanged.

Jay Posey

Jay Posey

 

Thirdly, this is a hybrid military SF or Wild West weird. There’s a considerable amount of fighting between what’s left of the human armed forces and the Weir. The humans have some advanced weaponry, but they are relatively small in number. It’s therefore not unlike groups of white settlers, militia or US Cavalry going into the land occupied by large numbers of less well-armed Native Indians. Finally, this is a coming-of-age story as Wren and the young “friend” he has awakened adjust to circumstances around them and find themselves forced to take responsibility for what they are or may become.

 

The first novel in the series was very impressive because the main character was the titular Three who acted as the protector of, and guide for, Wren and his mother. This gave us a chase across the landscape as Three led the inexperienced boy to a place where there might be some safety. They were being pursued by a small group led by Wren’s older brother. Although not much of the world was explained, there was considerable tension in the chase and we did pick up clues about the Weir and some of the different ways in which human mutants could operate. Unfortunately, Three is killed at the end of the book which leaves Wren as the primary protagonist in this book. This is unfortunate because, frankly, he’s not that interesting most of the time. We’re waiting for him to grow into his mutant powers. So far, he’s just dabbling and lacks the self-confidence to really get things done. So although he can occasionally say relevant and quite powerful things in the political arena, he’s essentially dependent on his mother for political decision-making, and the cast of bodyguards to keep him alive. When things get too hot inside Morningside, they take off into the desert and this leads to some quite repetitive chase and fighting sequences. If the editorial staff had been prepared to cut down the length by at least ten percent, this would have been a better book. As it is, the book starts off not unpromisingly, but lacks an adult point of view to deal with the political situation. It’s only as we approach the end that there’s more emotional investment in the characters and we get into the conflict that will leave us ready for the next book in the series. This leads to the general conclusion that even though this improves towards the end, Morningside Falls is significantly less successful than the first in the series.

 

For a review of the first in the series, see Three.

 

Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 7 to 9

Zettai_Reido

Episode 7 of Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) has us back in 2006 with the death of the President of Future Steps, a corporation much disliked because of its aggressive acquisition strategies. In modern time, we start off with a man accused of the murder but, once in court, objecting to the way the investigation was handled by the Cold Case Unit. We therefore have evidence given, first by Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto), to explain how and why the case was reopened, with the relevant flashbacks to show everyone at work. The man on trial was a security guard at the building which housed the corporation. It seems the deceased’s secretary had later seen him wearing a watch perhaps taken from her boss. When his house is searched, he also has an antique knife which belonged to the boss. Naturally, at the trial, the defence alleges the confession was coerced and then produces a witness who claims the victim and the deceased often drank together at his bar. It’s therefore not surprising the accused should have received gifts from the deceased. There’s also no forensic evidence to show the knife found in the accused’s possession was the murder weapon, so the case is adjourned for a review. Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji) formally reopens the case and gives Takumi Kurata the chance to get the right answer for the honour of the unit.

They call in the secretary who made the call. Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto) and Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama) interview her and it’s obvious that this victim was not a man to have any friends, particularly those whom he believed were in a lower class. He was fixated on money and what it could buy, which included a company holding the intellectual property rights on a Hello Kitty lookalike. Ryoko Takamine (Sayaka Yamaguchi) and Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako) discover the deceased had been diagnosed with leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. Having no relatives, he went in search of a donor. With long odds, a donor was found. With the successful treatment behind him, the victim had to decide what to do with the rest of his life. The episode then marginally fails to achieve an even balance between hard-nosed realism and sentimentality. For me, it shades too much into the latter but, given the point of the series, which is to show the extent to which people adapt and change under pressure of circumstances, I suppose this is defensible on the ground of consistency.

Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji)

Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji)

In episodes 8 and 9, we’re back to 2008 at the time of the Olympics where we have the “Suginami Case” which continues to haunt Ryoko Takamine and Hideo Nagashima, who failed to find the place where the kidnapped girl had been confined until it was too late to save her. She was in a form of coffin with a device attached which would extract the air after exactly 72 hours. The kidnapper initially demanded a ransom, but never pursued the demand. Now a man who’s seriously ill in prison has drawn the machine used to kill the girl. Although he also admits the killing, the voice of the kidnapper does not match. This sends Izumi Sakuragi and Ryoko Takamine to interview the man in prison using a polygraph. He uses the opportunity to taunt both Ryoko Takamine and Hideo Nagashima who also appears. He has details of the offence only a participant would have known and denies having anyone else involved.

When the parents of the murdered girl come into the Cold Case Unit, this puts more pressure on Hideo Nagashima who becomes even more determined to find out who committed this crime. But the death of this man prompts the Commissioner to order Hideo Nagashima to stop the investigation. If the press realise the case has been reopened, the embarrassment of the past failure will return to the whole police force. We then get the backstory of the investigation in which one of the people Ryoko Takamine profiled as a possible suspect committed suicide. The scene where this man’s mother confronts Ryoko Takamine is powerful and explains the depth of her pain with this case. This leads to other admissions, e.g. that Keigo Tsukamoto became a detective to catch the hit-and-run driver who killed his mother.

Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto)

Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto)

On her day off, Izumi Sakuragi decides to try and find the place the kidnapped girl photographed the day she was taken. Unfortunately, she meets a man at this location and suspects him of involvement. This coincidence leads to her being kidnapped. I do so hate it when people are abducted in broad daylight in a suburb and no-one notices but, for the purposes of the plot, let’s pass on by. Our second instalment sets off with Izumi Sakuragi tied up in a cellar while the rest of the team tries to find her. The solution to the original kidnapping depends on one of these long backstories which, when it finally plays out, has considerable emotional power. Although one element of it remains unanswered and there’s the inevitable coincidence as the trigger for the kidnapping itself, the sequence of events hangs together perfectly to show the motive for the kidnapping and to explain how the people involved came together. When you see it altogether, it has nice but-for causes and effects which means everyone thought they were acting in the best interests of those they loved, but the long-term effects are anger and guilt. The current kidnapping of Izumi Sakuragi is solved by the team as a whole. Ryoko Takamine gets her nerve back and offers crucial advice. Hideo Nagashima enters into an agreement with an important member of the press. And Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura) provides critical analysis in the forensic department. The outcome sees Izumi Sakuragi arrest the kidnapper and a more general sense of family emerge in the Cold Case Unit (and perhaps she will hit a baseball pitch before the end of the series).

For a review of other episodes, see:
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 1 and 2
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 3 and 4
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 5 and 6
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 10 and 11.

Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper by Mark Hodder

August 24, 2014 7 comments

Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper

Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper by Mark Hodder (Sexton Blake Library, 6th Series, Issue 1, contains the original titular story plus a reprint of “The Wireless Telephone Clue” by G H Teed which was first published in 1922 (Obverse Books, 2014). This takes me back to my youth in the 1950s when I was just getting into my stride with the early adventure and what then passed for thriller fiction. As fast as I could find copies of their work, I was devouring Sax Rohmer, Sapper, Leslie Charteris, Dornford Yates, and a host of others — that was until I discovered the American magazines which signalled, I’m sad to say, a partial abandonment of British thriller and detective fiction in favour of science fiction, horror and fantasy. However, one of the more enduring favorites proved to be the Sexton Blake series. With more than four-thousand stories to work through, I was never going to run out of new material. Then I discovered the films and along came the television series in the 1960s. The television series lacked the wit of The Avengers, but it was a good second best. All of this nostalgia comes into play because Mark Hodder has produced the first new contribution to this series in fifty years. If you’re a fan, this is a red-letter day. If you’ve not previously encountered this heroic sleuth, this is what you need to know.

Sexton Blake, like Sherlock Holmes, occupies rooms on Baker Street and has a housekeeper who, like Mrs Malaprop before her, has a tendency to mangle her words. If nothing else, this introduces a note of levity into the proceedings. There are two key differences between Blake and Holmes. Blake is very much the man of action who takes on a series of individual criminals and gangs, often with an international dimension involving both conventional crime and espionage. Whereas Holmes is into the collection of clues and deductive reasoning, Blake tends to be more intuitive and, although he does depend on solving mysteries, they tend to be more superficial as befits the adventure/thriller genre.

Mark Hodder

Mark Hodder

So in this new story, we’re off and running with one of these 1920s-style slightly science fictional plots in which the dwarfish superbrain working for the Ministry of Defence has created the weapon to end all wars. This is a variety of disintegrating ray which, when held in a relatively stable position, is capable of reducing all in its path to their constituent atoms (or something along those lines). The British naturally have the theory that once this weapon is demonstrated to all interested parties, no-one will challenge the Empire’s hegemony and we will embark on a new era of peace in our time. Our hero has just returned from a jaunt on which he discovered the Ring of Solomon. With the Middle East in a state of ferment, it would be inconvenient if this news was released, so the British government decides to lock it away in a secret vault constructed under the Rock of Gibraltar. To get it there, the Government detaches the latest military airship from its duties as the carrier of this new secret weapon, and so puts all pieces in play. A collector supervillain wants the ring but, when he discovers he might also acquire the weapon, he’s quickly into action. The rest of the story has Blake and his sidekick Tinker fighting the Gentleman, an expert at opening safes, and the Three Musketeers, recently released from prison. The result is one of these very nicely constructed period plots in which our dynamic duo put spanners in the criminal works as we float back and forth between London and Gibraltar. It’s all good clean fun.

“The Wireless Telephone Clue” was the first story in which the Three Musketeers appeared as burglars and robbers fit to terrorise London society. At one level, this is a very simple linear story of three gentlemen thieves who prey on their own class and are making a very good living out of it until, quite by chance, Blake sees two of the most recently stolen items on sale and Tinker hears something unusual on the airwaves. The best way to describe the story is unpretentious. So often, those who write fiction believe they must add detail and pad out the plot. This is efficient in setting the scene, showing how the burglars commit their crimes, and finally watching Blake track them down. There’s nothing very clever about the “detective” side of things. Random chance gives him the information and he and Tinker act upon it to recover much of the stolen loot.

Looking at these two stories in the cold light of 2014, I can understand why the young me would have hoovered up adventure-style thrillers like this. They are very undemanding reads with moderately inventive plots and a bare minimum of action (usually avoiding the more modern habit of explicit violence). The new story by Mark Hodder is slightly knowing and so more fun. The reprint is typical of 1920s fiction and good as far as it goes. So let’s cut to the chase. You do not buy books like this as great literature. They are published as a form of service. There are some characters like the Saint, Bulldog Drummond and Nayland Smith who ought to be remembered as they were originally written. Too often, as in the case of the Saint, their image has been dented by Hollywood. Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper should be read by oldies like me who enjoy the buzz of nostalgia, and by newcomers who want the chance to see what was top of the literary pops up to ninety years ago. I enjoyed the experience.

For reviews of the first five Burton and Swinburne books by Mark Hodder, see:
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man
The Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon
The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi
The Return of the Discontinued Man
There’s also a standalone called A Red Sun Also Rises.

And for those who enjoy a little nostalgia, the website run by Mark Hodder celebrating Sexton Blake is worth a visit.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 5 and 6

Zettai_Reido

Episodes 5 and 6 of Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) run together. We only go back to 2005 when there was an attack at a cultural festival. A man with a knife killed two adults and six children. He was arrested at the scene and convicted. Three years later, on the anniversary of this attack, a series of new attacks begins at local schools. On the anniversary attack, eight of the animals kept as pets by the children were killed. In subsequent attacks, different numbers of animals were killed. A detective who acted as mentor to Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto) comes into the Cold Case Unit to ask Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji) to take over the case. The justification for stepping outside their usual remit (which does not include damage to property, i.e. the animals) is that the killer can quickly escalate to human victims. Because of the link between Izumi Sakuragi and the detective who solicited the help of the unit, she is put in charge. This is somewhat controversial, but the others provisionally agree to go along with it.

She quickly collects evidence from all ten schools where attacks have occurred, and Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura) get to work. Unfortunately, they are not much help apart from confirming the boot prints at each of the sites suggest a male attacker. Izumi Sakuragi and Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako) go to the tenth and most recent school to be attacked. There’s the usual patronising behaviour from the man, aggravated by the fact Izumi Sakaragi has been put in charge. She endears herself to the children who are distressed at the death of their pets, which inspires Keigo Tsukamoto to return to the scene of the original attack. It turns out he was one of the officers first on the scene. While at the school, he admits he sees every cold case as a failure that should be put right. At this point, a middle school girl approaches the memorial and, when she realises they are police officers, suggests they do better and catch whoever committed the murder five years earlier. The point of this episode is to explore the different ways in which people respond to crime. No matter who they are, they are all affected and many carry some degree of pain as a result. This can be for the detectives who feel failure when their case is unsolved to those more directly involved, say as the parents, spouses or relatives of those killed. This particular investigation is triggered by a police officer who’s about to retire. He’s been trying to solve all the little cases no-one else cared about. He’s always taken the failure of other police officers personally. He thought he would go out in a blaze of glory by getting the answer to this pet-killing spree.

Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama)

Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama)

Then Sho Takebayashi comes up with the news that chat in a forum suggests another attack is about to take place. When Izumi Sakuragi and Keigo Tsukamoto go to the school, he’s wounded in a knife attack by the same school girl they had met earlier, but he decides not to record the attack in official records. This sets up a difficult emotional state for Izumi Sakuragi. Hideo Nagashima puts it this way. If she’s only reflecting on how she arrived at this situation, she can draw from the past and move forward. But if she’s caught up in regret for past mistakes, nothing will be settled. Izumi Sakuragi and Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama) then go round the other schools and find that this school girl has been seen at all the schools where the most recent attacks have occurred. But Yuki Fukazawa is not convinced this shows the girl is actually guilty of anything and, for the first time, becomes actively involved in trying to solve the case. The real problem is to decide the relationship between the original attack on humans and the new attacks on animals.

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto)  and Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako)

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto) and Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako)

They eventually track down the girl and recover the knife used to attack Keigo Tsukamoto. She also has a pair of shoes with her that shows evidence she’s been around animals recently. In the end, there is an overlap between the original murder spree and the later animal killings. But it’s the explanation for the girl’s initial allegation that the detectives should catch the one responsible for the killings that wins the prize. From the very first set-up scene where we see the young girl going into the school where the massacre is to occur, we’ve been wondering what she was doing there. She was not supposed to be in the school that day. The answer when it comes has a deep and satisfying plausibility. In a way, the explanation is all the more satisfying because, when Izumi Sakuragi first suspects what actually happened, she’s able to find direct evidence of it. That evidence and a little play-acting is the key to opening the girl’s emotional floodgates. She takes the first real step to resolving her feelings of guilt over what happened that day. This is the first time there’s been a real sense of a team effort and catching the animal killer just adds a little spice at the end. There’s also a nice moment as the retiring mentor passes on the baton to the rookie and hopes she’ll be a success. To some extent, this rebalances after Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto) has both Izumi Sakuragi and Yuki Fukazawa write formal letters of apology for breaching departmental rules. Discipline is strict in Japan. No matter what the stimulus, we’re watching Izumi Sakuragi grow up every minute this series ticks by.

For a review of other episodes, see:
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 1 and 2
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 3 and 4
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 7 to 9
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 10 and 11.

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