White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009) is a Korean film based on Keigo Higashino‘s novel Byakuyako. It’s one of these stories where events fourteen years ago have a direct bearing on current events with the same detective being on both cases. The original case involves the death of a moderately successful pawnbroker. His body is found locked inside the compartment of the rusting hulk of a ship. The only way into or out of this compartment is by climbing up a hatchway used to deliver food to the different levels. The body was found by young boys who play in this derelict place. It also appears the victim was paying money to a woman on the other side of town, but it’s not clear what form the relationship took. Before this can be clarified, the woman appears to commit suicide leaving evidence she might have killed the man. The senior police are quick to wrap up the case, taking the suicide as an admission of guilt. Detective Han Dong-Su (Han Suk Kyu) is not convinced that it was a suicide. This is one of these delightful moments in a film where you can watch the detective thinking and having one of those Eureka moments when the fact that doesn’t fit becomes obvious. Each of the departed leaves a teenager behind. The pawnbroker had a son called Yo-han. The suicide had a daughter called Jia. They were in the same class together at school. They both loved Gone With the Wind and the music of Tchaikovsky, particularly Swan Lake. After the deaths, they never seemed to speak to each other. A little while later, Jia moved to Seoul to live with her aunt who taught her how to make beautiful clothes.
In our time, Mi-Ho (Son Ye-Jin) is set to marry Seung-Jo (Lee Jong-Won) the chief executive of a large corporation. He asks her why she wants to marry him and is not offended when she says he’s rich. She wants his money to ensure she’s protected from all future hardship and pain. In much the same way the executive might headhunt an employee, he’s asked Si-Young (Lee Min-Jung), his executive assistant, to do a background check on Mi-Ho. She notices a man apparently following Mi-Ho. When she tackles him, she’s frustrated when it turns out to be Han Dong-Su who bullies her into telling the whole story of the engagement. When he sees her investigative report, he realises Mi-Ho is Jia, the daughter from the earlier case now grown up. This prompts him to wonder what’s happened to Yo-Han (Ko Soo).
Leaving his offices for the drive to their home in the outskirts of the city, the top-of–the range Mercedes carrying Seung-Jo and Mi-Ho crashes. Despite her own injuries, she rescues him just before the car catches fire. Now convinced she’s a special person, he asks her for the truth about her background. After a pause, she tells him that, fourteen years ago, she discovered she was the daughter of a murderer when her mother committed suicide. With this “last barrier” falling, Seung-Jo tells her they should get married immediately. This deeply offends his daughter who says she’ll never accept Mi-Ho as her mother. Si-Young is also deeply unhappy and goes back to Han Dong-Su to ask for help. He shows her the files he’s kept. They agree to work together. It’s when she finds evidence Seung-Jo’s car was tampered with that her life is in danger.
Although there’s a lapse into melodrama at the end, this is an almost pure tragedy. It’s easy to say that nothing can ever justify a murder. Most societies have moral and legal codes designed to protect human life. Of course governments hold up punishments of varying shades and degrees as a deterrent. The theory being that individuals planning a murder will see the punishments and decide the benefit they will derive from the death will not outweigh the costs of the punishment. Except this assumes either that murders do not occur spontaneously but are always planned by rational people, or that rational murderers believe they will be caught and so feel threatened by the punishment. Neither is terribly convincing. In this dark story, we’re looking at something close to justifiable homicide. It’s in the spirit of self-defence but tainted by complicated emotions of revenge. The second death is pure premeditated revenge but, once you understand the circumstances, you can understand why the killer should be driven to it. It’s unlikely there will ever be a catharsis or redemption for the killer. As viewers, we can feel pity and understand the fear that underlies the need to kill. Every human knows such feelings. But forgiveness is a different matter. As a society, we can’t exculpate those who kill others. There must always be a price to be paid so that society’s values can be seen to be upheld. As to whether a killer can ever forgive him or herself. . . I suppose some people have a conscience and no matter what happens, they will always feel the guilt. Others may be emotionally damaged and so be unable to understand society’s values. They survive by ignoring the judgement of others and doing only what’s needful to protect themselves. Such people would be incapable of giving love. As to accepting the love of others. . . that would be seen as a weakness to be exploited when needed.
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 is a dark and disturbing story with some sex scenes so it’s not for everyone. I found it completely absorbing despite the failure to explain one plot element and the slightly unsatisfactory melodrama at the end. I forgive Park Shin-Woo, the director and joint screenwriter. In police procedurals, there must aways be a climax with people running around in desperate chases. Without a doubt, it’s worth seeing as yet another impressive piece of fiction from the pen of Keigo Higashino.
For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Salvation of a Saint
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ～劇場版・新参者～ (2012)
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ～劇場版・新参者～ (2012) is based on the ninth novel in Keigo Higashino‘s “Kyoichiro Kaga” mystery series. It focuses on guilt, one of the most powerful and destructive of human emotions. Why is it so powerful? If others are aware of the “offence” committed, the wrongdoer can accept the judgment of those others and show contrition. But when you judge yourself as having broken either moral or secular laws, how can you forgive yourself? Guilt is not just self-policing, but internalised self-punishment as well. Thematically in this film, we’re into the layering of responsibility. Taking it step by step, what is the responsibility of parents for their children when they “innocently” make mistakes? When the children attend school, teachers stand in the same position as parents and must also act as moral compasses to show the inexperienced how to navigate the difficult waters of condemnation, acceptance of responsibility and redemption. When children become adults and enter the world of work, employers have a duty to provide a safe place and a safe system of work. Being human, any authority figure can fail when supposed to show others how they should behave when they have done “wrong”. The worst outcome comes when the original “offenders” and the authority figures conspire to hide the “offence”. This creates a situation in which guilt drives the continuing need for all involved to hide the offence, and to generate a potential motive for murder when the secrecy is threatened.
In the Nihombashi area of Tokyo, a man staggers on to a bridge with knife in his stomach, managing to get far enough across to be able to release a piece of origami into the river and die under a statue titled The Wings of the Gryphon (Kirin). Detective Kyoichiro Kaga (Hiroshi Abe) is called in to investigate, conveniently interrupting what was to him an embarrassing discussion about whether to attend the religious ceremony to acknowledge the anniversary of his father’s death. A first impression of the investigation shows the victim walked a significant distance after being stabbed, but did not ask for help. It seemed important he get to the bridge. Not too far away, Yashima, a young man, is hiding in the bushes. When the police notice him, he runs and is knocked down in the road. He has the dead man’s briefcase and wallet with him which makes him a suspect. He lies in the ICU in a coma.
The way the investigation unwinds is fascinating. Yuhei Matsumiya (Junpei Mizobata) Kaga’s cousin and young assistant during the investigation, establishes that Yashima worked at the factory where the deceased was a manager. He was injured in a workplace accident because of old and defective machinery. Later he was fired. When Yashima dies without regaining consciousness, the senior police officers leak the information so the mass media will treat this as a motive for the suspect to have taken revenge. They want a quick result and blaming the dead suspect is not going to be controversial. Except, of course, there are consequences, Haruka Aoyagi (Seika Taketomi) the deceased’s daughter, attempts suicide when bullied at school. Her father is being blamed for covering up an accident that almost killed Yashima. Yuto Aoyagi (Tori Matsuzaka) the deceased’s son is also very disturbed when he learns his dying father struggled to get to the statue of the Gryphon.
Meanwhile Kaga is wandering around Nihombashi trying to work out what the deceased was doing there. It seems to be connected to the seven shrines in the area. In the midst of all this, Kaori Nakahara (Yui Aragaki) the girlfriend of the suspect is fired from her job. It’s guilt by association. This is hard on her. Not only is she pregnant, but she had also been angry with Yashima for not making greater efforts to find work. She blames herself for pushing him into doing something bad. Indeed, she’d refused to tell him of the pregnancy because she was afraid he’d run away from the responsibility. In fact the young man loved her dearly and had been diligently looking for work.
When Kaga and Yuhei Matsumiya tour the shrines, they find the deceased had been leaving origami cranes made from paper bought in a local shop. Yet Ami Aoyama (Meisa Kuroki) the deceased’s wife, denies her husband was in any way religious. This leads to a kind a battle between the senior detectives who just want to close the case and blame it on Yashima, while Kaga manipulates the situation to keep the investigation going. This makes the police procedural aspect of the story particularly interesting. Naturally, the solution depends on the significance of the statue on the bridge. Historically, it was the centre of Japan, the point from which all roads begin. However, for these purposes, the meaning is a reference to a past tragedy. I confess to odd moments of weepiness leading up the end as the truth of the matter exposes so many layers of failure. This was an avoidable death. Although Japanese culture takes saving face very seriously, I suspect the same result would have occurred in other parts of the world. No-one likes to admit they are in the wrong even though there may be no punishment, formal or informal. Cover-ups are commonplace. As a result, The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ～劇場版・新参者～ is a thoughtful and powerful film dealing with issues of social importance with a strong sense of drama as the mystery is systematically resolved. It’s yet another impressive piece of fiction from the pen of Keigo Higashino.
For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Salvation of a Saint
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)
The 7th Woman by Frédérique Molay (Le French Book, 2012) (translated by Anne Trager) is a French police procedural with a variation on the “invisible man” idea as in G K Chesterton. Let’s meet Nico Sirsky, Head of the Paris Criminal Investigation Division who can stare down criminals armed to the teeth but goes weak-kneed in the presence of an attractive woman, particularly if she can insert a camera into his stomach and take photographs of potential ulcers. You see he has a stressful job and with stress comes health problems. But before he can start training his stomach wall to smile for the camera, he gets called in to a murder. Marie-Hélène Jory, an assistant professor at the Sorbonne has been tortured before death came as a merciful release. The first impression is that this is a highly organised, not to say, professional killer. Not only did he take his time, but stayed behind afterwards to stage the crime scene and remove all traces of his presence.
This is a novel that obeys the unity of time as a serial killer starts his sequence and the police try to play catch-up as the second identical killing is discovered. To show how serious he is, the killer leaves a message. He’s going to kill a total of seven women in seven days. But, with the third victim, the killer makes it personal by leaving another message, this time addressed to Nico. Worse Nico’s brother-in-law is involved. Even at the best of times, the politics of investigation in France is complicated. The idea of a vendetta against Nico and/or his family is therefore viewed very seriously. After some thought, Nico is allowed to retain management control over the case for the police side of the investigation. He’s expected to be professional enough to ignore the potential conflict of interest. When other senior officers are implicated, the deviousness of the plot become apparent.
I’m not quite sure about the translation. I think it slightly literal rather than being edited into a more flowing English style. As a language, French tends to be a little more detailed in the way it presents ideas. The text we have here matches that with a slightly dense prose style. Worse, there’s quite a significant cast of people to meet so the first half of the book is relatively slow moving as everyone is established and their relationships explained. As an irrelevant aside, there’s a certain class uniformity here. All the characters, including the victims, are middle or upper middle class, prosperous, occupying pleasant homes and fashionably stylish. With the exception of Nico’s son, there’s also a fairly narrow age range between late thirties and early fifties. That means this is a fairly unrepresentative sample of life in Paris. I’m not raising this as a criticism, but it does say something about the author’s view of the world. This being the first of three books featuring Nico Sirsky, our hero also turns out to be something of a workaholic paragon. Although a man, he’s empathetic — described as a feminine characteristic — faithful to his ex-wife but innocently romantic when he meets the doctor who’s going to check out his ulcer. Within days, he’s decided he’s in love again, not something I find very credible in an obsessive man like this while he’s in the middle of a bloody serial killer case.
So where does this leave us? After a slow start, the pace picks up, more bodies appear, and we race into a moderately clichéd confrontation at the end. Although I think it’s obvious who’s responsible, the author plays a very elegant game in trying to distract us. For this, she deserves praise. When there’s only one person who could have done it, it’s something of a triumph to keep making us doubt the obvious. As a police procedural, I think it better than average, but it’s not for everyone as we have fairly graphic descriptions of the torture both from the killer’s point of view and during the autopsies. This is not to say The 7th Woman is in any sense a horror novel. The descriptions are not sensationalised or written in a way likely to raise strong emotional responses. But such factual explicitness may not be to everyone’s taste.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.
Confession of Murder or Naega Salinbeomida or 내가 살인범이다 (2012) makes a pleasingly dramatic start. It’s 2005. Our hero is drowning his sorrows in a bar when a masked man throws himself through the window to attack him. Recovering quickly from the surprise, there’s a terrific fight followed by a trademark chase in the rain. It’s always good for a director and scriptwriter Jung Byoung-Gil to make a statement of intent. No mater how cerebral this police procedural may get, there will always be a chance for fights and the occasional shooting. Anyway, our hero is left carrying a scar on his face to remind him of his run-in with a serial killer. Retreating ever further into the bottle, he views himself as an increasing failure as a detective.
This is Homicide Detective Choi Hyung-Goon (Jung Jae-Young) who, at his peak, was in charge of a major serial killer case. It was never solved. Then after the period of statutory liability has expired, Lee Doo-Suk (Park Shi Hoo) writes a book confessing to the murders. The news conference where he launches his book confessing to the murders is a nicely judged commentary on the role of the media. The author’s display of the bullet wound allegedly resulting from the shot fired by Detective Choi when they chased across roof-tops is guaranteed to grab everyone’s attention. When he starts to do the rounds of the parents of the girls he claims to have killed to show his remorse, the press follow and sales of the book are phenomenal. The question for the police, therefore, is whether the confession is real. A question that becomes all the more pressing when the author and the media come into the police station to greet the detective in charge.
The media, however, are anxious to get the alleged criminal and failed cop on to the same television show. If the cop kills the confessed murderer on a live show, the ratings will go through the roof. The television impresario played by Jang Gwang is magnificently capitalist. He truly understands the cult of celebrity and is out to exploit the opportunity to the maximum. There are two things going for him. The first is that the man making the confession is not only inherently newsworthy, he’s also rather beautiful. Vast numbers of women and teen girls are swooning over his good looks. Indeed, when the detective accuses him of being a fraud, we see the young girls outraged. They want their new hero to be the serial killer who used to go round killing young girls. The satire is moderately savage, charting the mindless irrationality of the cult that rapidly grows up around this admitted killer and the exploitation of this cult by the mainstream media to make millions of dollars profit.
Meanwhile, led by Han Ji-Soo (Kim Young-Ae), the mother of the last girl whose body was never found, the relatives plan their own quiet revenge. Except the manner of the kidnapping wins prizes for being one of the most amusing I’ve seen in years. It’s a complete masterpiece showing how amateur criminals are accident-prone when it comes to executing a plan and it’s worth seeing the film just for that sequence. The most dangerous of this group proves to be Choi Kang-Sook (Jo Eun-Ji). Her efforts with the crossbow prove highly effective. Mention must also be made of Jung Hae-Kyun who gives a performance of great physicality. He has terrific screen presence.
Taken overall, we have a wonderful film. Indeed, it’s one of the best of 2012. Although I think it rather obvious what’s going on, the mechanics of the plot are worked out with rigorous attention to detail. Absolutely everything you see has a purpose and builds up to a most satisfying emotional outcome in the epilogue. Park Shi Hoo smiles most convincingly as the man making the confession. That he manages to come over as sympathetic even when admitting to multiple murders is a significant triumph. Jung Jae-Young is also impressive as the detective slowly falling to pieces — a fall made all the more terrible when the flashbacks explain his personal history. Although revenge films can sometimes leave a sour taste in the mouth as you feel vigilanteism is being condoned by film-makers, this plays absolutely fair with everyone, both individual and state officials, operating within the law and upholding its principles. Indeed, one character goes above and beyond the ordinary call of duty to ensure the law is not broken (too much). Confession of Murder or Naega Salinbeomida or 내가 살인범이다 is a film you should go out of your way to see.
For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/
The point of these reviews is to give you a piece of my mind. In doing so, I’m showing you who I am and how opinionated I can be. And this is done just by selecting words and stringing them together into sentences. Some may think this clever stuff but, as authorial voices go, it’s actually not a difficult trick to pull off. Authors who write fiction and create characters have a more difficult time. They have to strike a balance. On the one hand, they need to establish their own unique voices. That’s the major part of their brand, the way in which they appeal to their readers. Some write in short sentences. Even the idea of using words of more than two syllables (sorry) is anathema (only joking). Others think and write in a more complicated way. Their sentences go on for ever.
They don’t like short paragraphs, even for emphasis!
Over time, authors find the readers who like their voices. But that’s only half the battle. Fiction depends on presenting characters who act and speak in credible ways. Readers have to feel they know and understand the people they read about. They must want to identify with them and vicariously experience the situations described in the books.
Even when the novel is a first-person narrative, the protagonist’s voice is not the author’s voice. When we see a painting, we might suspect the identity of the artist but looking for the signature confirms it. In a novel, you hear the author’s voice through the voices of the characters he or she creates. The most successful books have a personality of their own. That’s what makes us fans. It carries us from one book to another even though the content in terms of characters and situations may be radically different.
I Hear the Sirens in the Street by Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street Books, 2013) Book Two: The Troubles Trilogy. A Detective Sean Duffy Novel is following the history of the day. Argentina invades the Falklands and the DeLorean factory continues to deliver those cars with the gull-wing doors that can fly owners into the future. We first find our hero, now promoted to Inspector, exchanging friendly fire with a watchman when they’re called out to an abandoned factory site to investigate a blood trail. Such are the challenges when plainclothes police officers respond to a call. After persuading the old soldier to stop shooting, they find a body, cut to fit into a suitcase. Even on a good day, this would be bad news. That it seems to be a foreigner adds to the burden of paperwork and probably means the crime will be kicked upstairs for politically more cautious officers to investigate. This coincides with a blip in Sean’s relationship with Laura so his normal routines are disrupted. Life can be a real bitch in a town called Malice. When the cadaver turns out to be American and the poison used to kill him is very obscure, the case looks challenging, but then the case in which the body was dumped turns up a clue. And the clue leads them to another death that’s in the record books as an IRA hit. . . Pursuing this trail gives us a delightful piece of investigative logic including the canonical dog that fails to bark.
It’s at this point that the book takes off from a police procedural into faintly surreal thriller territory as the girl on the motorcycle, the one you only see through a glass darkly, turns out to be a fan of Doctor Faustus. She’s a kind of agent provocateur, a challenge to the macho Duffy who takes such inordinate pride in his investigative skills. Perhaps if he’s less than a good detective, he shouldn’t be so cocksure of himself. In the end, of course, there are answers. But our hero has to pay a heavy price to get them. You might wonder why he would be so persistent. The answer is, as you might expect, slightly complicated. Some detectives are dogged. While this is sometimes thought an admirable quality, it tends to be a more boring trait and the resort of the unimaginative. Sean Duffy is a detective with flair. He’s blessed with an analytical mind and, even when he knows the risks, is not afraid to use it. Having been in close proximity to an exploding terrorist bomb, he believes his survival is a kind of investment in the future. Individuals cannot do much on their own, but if there were more like him, Northern Ireland would become a better place. It will probably never be an entirely normal place, but any improvement is to be welcomed.
Why have I used the word surreal to open the previous paragraph? The answer revolves around the culture of Northern Ireland. Over the decades, the flow of life in the province has been distorted. Those lucky enough to live in broadly stable and peaceful cultures view events in places like Belfast as somehow stepping outside the normal constraints of logic. They shake their heads at news from the province, refusing to accept this is normality for those who live in this place. On the other side of the divide, the people’s defence to the horrors around them is a black humour. When you are surrounded by pain and death, the only way to deal with it is by finding humour in the macabre and the denial of hope. It’s a kind of satirical submission to the inevitability of death.
It seems to me I Hear the Sirens in the Street is the final step in Adrian McKinty’s journey to perfect his author’s voice. This is a book of realism yet, because of the humour, it also captures the sectarian tensions in a way that makes them more bearable for the modern reader. I find McKinty’s voice particularly pleasing in this book. In earlier novels, I think he was trying to hard to be “amusing”. Here the humour is more organic, emerging with a more natural feel and making this book particularly satisfying. So I unhesitatingly recommend this second episode in Sean Duffy’s career. I find him fascinating as a character. It will be interesting to see, having survived two books, whether he can live to fight on at the end of the trilogy.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.
In deciding to watch this film, I’m vaguely exploring how successfully people who move from one country to another can bridge the two cultures. Kim Yunjin was born in South Korea but her family moved to the USA when she was ten. Having decided to make acting her career, she picked up small parts in America but became better known in South Korea. Then came her breakthrough in US television with Lost in 2004. During a break in the television schedule, she returned to South Korea to make Diary of June or Bystander or Yu-wol-ui il-gi or 6월의 일기 (2005). This adopts the format of a senior detective and a rookie. In this case, the experienced officer, Detective Chu Ja-Young (Shin Eun-Kyung) is a slightly older woman, very dedicated and hard-working. She’s looking after a teenaged orphaned nephew who, in Korean terms, is not exactly the most reliable of characters. Like many countries in this part of the world, there’s a major focus on education as a precondition to future success, yet this boy prefers to spend his free time spray-painting graffiti and hoping not to get caught. This creates real tension between the teen and his aunt. The rookie, Kim Dong-Wook (Moon Jung-Hyuk), is a young man yet to commit to the idea of being a detective. To him it’s a civil service job with cool perks, i.e. he gets to be seen walking through police lines at the scenes of investigations and drives a car with the siren going, acting like he’s a racing driver. That said, this relationship actually feels real. She’s both patient and a leader by example, pulling him through the thinking processes to see beyond the apparent suicide of a schoolboy, to link it to the murder of his class-mate, and then to speculate they are dealing with a serial killer. She also has a magnificent way of cooking squid which you should all try.
The essence of the story quickly emerges. In the school her nephew attends, a rather wimpy boy is subjected to continuous bullying over a period of some months. During this time he writes a diary. But, because he prefers to get everything done quickly and neatly, he writes several months in advance. This, as the title suggests, includes entries for the month of June in which he plans six murders in retaliation for the bullying. However, he dies in a hit-and-run. It therefore looks as though his mother, Seo Yun-Hee (Kim Yunjin) is acting out the different scenarios described in the diary, killing the first boy in a knife attack and the second to make it look like a suicide out of remorse for the first murder. Then there’s a third death in the ER of the hospital where the mother works as a nurse. When the detective goes to the address given for the mother, she realises they were at school together and “best friends” until a fateful day. When they should have cared more about one of their fellow schoolmates who was being attacked by some boys, they hurried by, telling themselves they were late for an appointment. Both have carried a burden of guilt because the girl later died.
With the mother missing, the problem for the police is to identify who else may be at risk. Initially they think they have found the right diary but, when they turn up in the wrong place to protect the wrong boy, it’s obvious they are working from a fake copy. Fortunately, one of the boys in the class decides to help the police by showing them a secret website where video of the bullying has been uploaded.
At this point, the film rather cleverly pivots and although it continues to be a police procedural, it really becomes a drama about bullying, the parents’ responsibility and the wider role of the school and other authority figures. An investigation into the background of the mother finds she had been abandoned by her husband and was continually harassed by his creditors. When Jin-Mo also proves a problem, she tells him to go away for a while. She needs a break from all her troubles. Jin-Mo reacts by deliberately walking out in front of a car. This tips the mother over the edge and into revenge mode. She wants to kill not only the immediate ringleaders of the bullying but also the bystanders who did nothing. This inevitably involves the failures of the school in general and the class teacher who was aware of the bullying but did nothing to stop it. But the question posed and answered by the film concerns the identity of the most guilty bystander and how he or she should die.
Although I think the ending goes on for slightly too long in stating the obvious, Diary of June or Bystander or Yu-wol-ui il-gi or 6월의 일기 remains a provocative and emotionally satisfying story that transcends language and cultural boundaries. No country is free from the curse of bullying, whether in schools, the workplace or elsewhere. That Korea may have a culture that prefers to save face which makes it more difficult for those involved to intervene or deal with the phenomenon, does not prevent this film from having a powerful message for all who see it. Kim Yunjin is very effective as the broken mother seeking revenge. In this pivotal role in a highly dramatic film, it’s interesting to compare her with Daniel Henney who was born in America to a Korean mother but has found success in South Korea even though, initially, he could not speak the language, see Seducing Mr Perfect and The Fugitive Plan B. He gets by on good looks, whereas Kim Yunjin is bilingual and can act. Yet they have contrived to achieve relative success in both countries. Although it’s not, strictly speaking, a fair comparison, in the long term, my money is on Kim Yunjin to be the more successful. She has more talent.
Between 1981 and 2009 across America, twenty-six died in so-called police-on-police shootings. In this, there’s an interesting fact. Almost all the off-duty officers mistaken for offenders and shot by fellow officers have been officers of colour. The last time an off-duty white officer was shot and killed was in 1982. We should be clear about this. Both parties in the shootings have been officers risking their lives to enforce the law and, by virtue of their training, all these deaths should have been preventable. This inevitably means race cannot be easily discounted as a reason why the deaths were not prevented. Again to be clear, the reported deaths are the tip of the iceberg. The majority of officers do not switch off when they leave work for the day. When they see a crime in progress, they routinely intervene. While in plain clothes and seen to be carrying a gun, all such officers are in danger and confrontations between on- and off-duty officers occur every day. Many officers of colour are routinely mistaken for criminals and many are shot, fortunately not with fatal consequences. This leads to a strong presumption. That there’s a strong racial bias among white officers to stereotype people of colour, and particularly African Americans, as dangerous criminals. That there’s a shoot-first-and-ask-questions afterwards approach to policing.
My reason for starting this review of Dead Wrong by Connie Dial (The Permanent Press, 2013) with a few statistics is because this book begins with Sergeant Kyle Richards, a white officer, shooting and killing Officer Terence Dupre, an African American. This occurs in a dark alley at night as the sergeant is responding to a silent burglar alarm. In choosing to focus on such a killing in the LAPD, the author is immediately setting off into difficult territory with the story of Christopher Dorner still fresh in our minds. You will recall he alleged he was the victim of racial bias which led to him being fired. Given the relationship between the LAPD and the black community has long been difficult, the real world police have been reviewing the reasons for Dorner’s firing. In this book, there’s immediate community anger and the police move carefully to investigate the circumstances of the shooting as a more or less permanent protest demonstration takes up residence outside the Hollywood Community Police Station where the sergeant is based. The captain in charge of this division is Josie Corsino and, despite nominally being a desk jockey, she becomes actively involved in the investigation. From an internal perspective, there’s a very clear explanation for the sergeant’s presence in the alley. There’s also fairly clear video evidence from surveillance cameras showing he followed protocol in the shooting. The same cannot be said for the victim who was on suspension. No-one knows what he was doing in the alley. All that can immediately be said is that he was driving an expensive sports car belonging to a somewhat notorious local attorney, an attorney who’s quickly into action to prepare a civil action for the deceased’s family against the city.
This is a book written by an insider. The author used to work in the police station which is the main scene of the action in this book. To some extent, Dead Wrong is a fictionalised version of what it’s actually like to work for the LAPD. I’m trying to write this in a neutral tone because many of the elements described in this book are deeply worrying. We’ve been so continuously exposed to novels, films and television programs showing us the world of both conscientious and corrupt police officers and shyster lawyers, it’s easy to treat each plot as an exaggeration of reality. Everyone understands that novelists and screenwriters need to deliver thrills and excitement. Sadly, the real world is more often routine and boring. Exaggeration is therefore required to inject the necessary drama and tension. But this novel feels authentic.
It has a simple and direct writing style, delivered in slightly dense prose which gives us the facts. It doesn’t make a song-and-dance about it. Unlike other writers who resort to purple prose to enhance the reading experience and colour our perception of what’s described, this just lays out the course of the investigation and leaves it to us to draw our own conclusions. I was hooked. It’s easy to make quick judgements about police officers who bend the rules on evidence collection. In this case we see conscientious individuals caught up in a difficult situation who take what they can find and use it to get results. That some of what they do is illegal is a commentary on the nature of the laws themselves. When investigations would quickly stall and the “truth” of the matter would remain concealed, creative rule bending and breaking is the only way forward. This doesn’t mean we should condone all illegal activities by police officers, but it should provoke a more transparent review of the current law to determine how the rules can be modified to permit police officers to be more effective detectives — assuming that’s what they want and we need, of course.
As to the police-on-police shooting itself, I find the investigation process described here to be thorough and designed to maximise the chance of working out what actually happened. I have two follow-up thoughts. Because this is LA and the relationship between the police and the different communities is tense, each investigation is highly politicised, if not on the ground, then certainly at the higher levels within the force and the city. This may militate against the effectiveness of the investigation or the transparency of dealing with the investigation’s conclusions. The second thought is the failure of this book to refer to any effort in the recruitment or training of police officers to screen for racial bias in the candidates or to train them to be less racially biased when they go out on the streets. There seems to be an assumption that nothing needs to be done to improve the performance of armed officers. This strikes me as a serious omission. As a captain in charge of a busy division, screening for racist beliefs and monitoring for racist behaviour should be routine if the relationships with local communities are to be repaired. Being seen to do nothing internally and investing significant investigative effort to prove the deceased black officer to be a criminal simply confirm the impression of racial prejudice.
As police procedurals go, this is one of the best I’ve read over the last year. It gives an unvarnished view of life in the police force and the pressures this brings to relationships. In this case, we get to see the problems in Corsino’s own family and the stresses in the lives of the other key officers involved in the investigation, an investigation that quickly opens out when the attorney representing the family of the dead officer is murdered. Pick your own reason to read this. It’s “tough”, “realistic”, “gritty”, “brave”, and so on. Whatever reason you pick, Dead Wrong is a book you should read.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.
Well here we are with Season 2 of Boss シーズン (2011) and we kick off with a flashback showing how the Black Moon terrorist leader escaped, and snipers killed key members of their organisation under arrest. The only minor success was due to Eriko Osawa (Yuki Amami) and her team who saved the Police Chief from assassination. Although the team was distracted by a fake bomb, the Boss pulled the Chief down and saved him from “certain death”. He was merely wounded. But with the Japanese press looking on, this “success” was branded a highly embarrassing failure by the Police so the team was disbanded and Boss returned to America. Having allowed two years to pass, Shinjiro Nodate (Yutaka Takenouchi) decides it’s time to pull the team back together except there are two issues to resolve. As the one perceived to be most at fault, Mami Kimoto (Erika Toda) has been banished to the wilderness and seems reluctant to rejoin the team. Reiko Narahashi (Michiko Kichise) is leaving to get married so someone new has to be found to run the CSI department. As an informal new recruit Rika Kurohara (Riko Narumi), the Police Chief’s slightly wayward daughter and a powerful computer white hat, is drafted in to help the team.
We now have a kind of rerun of episode 4 in the first series. An extremely well-informed criminal kidnaps Mami Kimoto and sets up a slow-motion death scenario. Frankly this is absurd. The kidnapper shoots the victim in the chest but the bullet only slowly moves towards the heart. Yet again, it’s down to the team to work out who the criminal must be and find their team member before she expires. The solution wins a prize as the most contrived so far. I don’t mind an occasional episode where our heroine has a flash of inspiration, gives secret instructions, catches the criminal and then explains exactly how the “trick” was done. But this is in a class of its own. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s actually rather impressive as a piece of plotting. Someone very clever sat down to reverse engineer the capture. But the result is completely divorced from reality. This is like one of the episodes from the original television series of Mission Impossible where the team comes through against the odds to convince the dictator of Mickleagua he’s been abducted by aliens and the only way to get back from the Moon is to spill the beans about his American spy network. Obviously Mami Kimoto survives and is able to look the Boss in the eye and say, “I knew you would find me.” She sobs with relief and pain as the bullet moves one millimetre closer to her heart and hospital staff whisk her away for surgery. The guest star is Yumiko Shaku who rather wickedly sends up Yuki Amami’s mannerisms as the Boss. It’s quite good fun as a mirror image. Also entering the action is Hiroshi Morioka (Nao Omori). He was originally a police officer working with Eriko Osawa and Shinjiro Nodate, but now works in a political capacity. He’s obviously introduced to look suspicious.
The next episode is equally silly. Well that needs a word of qualification. The psychology of the mastermind is interesting and put together in a clever way, but the process of investigation and the manner in which the evidence of guilt is elicited are unconvincing. Even with our wise-after-the-event approach to revealing how Boss deduced X was the killer, this ranks as pretty pathetic. However, Episode 4 proves to be a good balance between characters and plot. Although the set-up is hopelessly contrived, the emerging relationship between Ikko Furuya and our heroine is first class. This is a really pleasing story of revenge which should have all viewers firmly on the side of the killer and his helpers. Indeed, the way the description of the killer emerges is great fun and the reason they are able to entrap him is a moment of sadness. It wins a prize for ingenuity in the cause of the sympathy vote.
Episode 5 is another example of the Boss deciding she knows who has done it upon their first meeting. The problem therefore is to elicit sufficient evidence. Having watched with my usual concentration, I admit to being completely baffled as to how the team knew where the bodies were buried. Although there are some nice jokes about blogging and how to live a frugal lifestyle, the scientific analysis of soil samples makes no sense. The only triumphant moment comes in a particularly nice irony about one of the victims. The motive for killing her was jealousy of the lifestyle but, in reality, the victim was almost penniless and putting on an act.
Episode 6 is the first sign of life with what looks like a bank robbery. At least one armed man takes hostages and begins to negotiate with the Boss. However, there are shots fired, smoke is suddenly detected and the hostages come running out. When the police enter, one of the hostages is dead but there’s no sign of the robber(s). When the bank counts its cash, no money is missing. This is a genuinely good bait-and-switch story with the chance given to new recruit Sachiko Tadokoro (Kyoko Hasegawa) to earn a little self-confidence both in the job and at home.
Episode 7 is interesting on two levels. First, it gives substantial backstory on all the main characters and explains more precisely why each of the team was selected. Ippei Hanagata (Junpei Mizobata) was completely honest and naive. Keisuke Yamamura (Yoichi Nukumizu) was twice married and addicted to hostesses, but still offered balance to Hanagata’s inexperience. Zenji Iwai (Kendo Kobayashi) was not only gay but also violent, having attacked a senior officer. Except that officer was corrupt and our man was refusing to be involved. Similarly, Takuma Katagiri (Tetsuji Tamayama) was a man adrift who needed a new boss to give him a new sense of self-worth after the shooting incident. The actual plot involves a form of revenge attack on the Team itself and Hanagata in particular. It works because it explains the relationship between the Boss and Shinjiro Nodate, referring back to the Black Moon case in the last series and to earlier incidents in which they came to trust each other and devised secret signals to indicate danger. The actual plot is even more than usually unbelievable.
Episode 8 is a serial killer who resumes after a five year gap or are the new killings the work of a copy cat? If this was the case, it would have to be someone with inside knowledge. The subplot is rather silly with the Boss sent on a blind date. Episode 9 is a fairly straightforward story as a police procedural. It’s simply a case of catching the known man, but it does manage to hit the right emotional notes with the girl being the pivotal figure and having a relationship both with the killer and, later, with Zenji Iwai who feels he may have a mothering side to him.
Episode 10 starts the end run with the return of Mami Kimoto. She’s been working out-of-sight to identify who was behind the Black Moon two years ago. But before we finally reveal who the mastermind has been from the first series, Takuma Katagiri must finally get up enough courage to propose marriage to the woman he has not been talking with throughout this season. It should be a moment of rare happiness but the potential father-in-law turns out to have aided and abetted two murders. In a straight choice between continuing in his career as a detective and giving it up to marry, he naturally chooses career which leaves him in place to thwart the terrorists plan to assassinate the Prime Minister, assuming that’s what they actually intend. As a plot from the last episode of the first season to the end of the second, this is actually rather good. If the scriptwriters had taken just a little more care to build the narrative arc and then avoided the illogicalities in the final few minutes, I would be cheering. As it is, I was left with a sense of what might have been. There’s too much attempted humour at the expense of the individual members of the team. This distracts from the seriousness of the individual investigations. The series should either have aimed for stronger individual police procedural episodes or made a real effort to produce a series leading up to the big climax at the end with incidental investigations along the way.
For a review of the first season, see Boss.
Invisible Murder by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis (translation by Tara Chace) (Soho Press, 2012) is the second books featuring Nina Borg who works as a nurse at the Coal-House Camp, an official asylum for refugees staying in Denmark. To prove her credentials as one of these well-meaning people who go out of their way to help the disadvantaged, she moonlights for The Network. Unlike the Coal-House Camp, this is an unofficial group of people who have dedicated themselves to helping Denmark’s deportees and illegal immigrants. Because these people cannot use Denmark’s health services without surrendering to the law, they are heavily dependent on people like Nina who have enough medical knowledge to keep them as healthy as possible. Her husband, Morten, does not approve of her involvement with The Network and, before he sets off for work on an oil rig, extracts a promise she will not do anything “compromising” while he’s away. Ah, if only people could keep such promises, there would be no books like this.
In prefatory fashion, the story begins in Hungary, where two young Roma men decide to make yet another pass through a facility abandoned by the Soviet Union at the end of its occupation of Hungary. Because of unexpected subsidence, the scavengers have the first bite of the cherry in a previously sealed lower level. As is always the way, we’re not told what they find, but Tamás sees the possibility of great wealth. This takes him to a local Roma gang boss, and thence to Budapest where he briefly hooks up with his half-brother Sandor Horvath. This proves disastrous for Sandor who just wants to complete his law degree and quietly forget his past as a Roma. Unfortunately the internet communications Tamás makes using Sandor’s computer bring him to the attention of the police and, in turn, the disclosure of his Roma origins leads to his dismissal from the university. Prejudices run deep in Hungary (and elsewhere). Needless to say, this neatly brings all the major players to Copenhagen where Søren Kirkegard in the Danish Security and Intelligence Service counterterrorism unit is soon interested in the websites “Sandor Horvath” spent time on.
What follows is a fascinating insight into current Danish culture. As one of the Scandinavian countries, it has enjoyed a reputation as being a tolerant liberal democracy, one of the “good world citizens”. Unfortunately, the decision of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper to publish drawings of the Prophet Muhammad was approved by the government and at the UN climate summit we saw heavy-handed policing to suppress peaceful protests. There are also more general straws in the wind suggesting the growth of xenophobia, particularly affecting the increasing numbers of Moslems making their home there. For decades, Moslems have been denied permits to build a mosque in Copenhagen and there were no Muslim cemeteries. This book revolves around the building work to create the first mosque in Copenhagen. With the Danish Government due to attend the official opening, this is a flashpoint moment.
On the way, we get to see something of the plight of refugees in Denmark. In many ways, the official system is shown as deficient. The unofficial is dire. The exploitation of these individuals is shown in an unflinching way. Those who have money must pay. If there’s no money, there are other ways of paying.
I don’t think I suffer from compassion fatigue. I hope I retain sufficient morality to be offended by news of those victimised around the world. But in fiction, I begin to wonder whether there’s too consistent a trend to incorporate “suffering” into novels. Unlike the news media where there’s a level of saturation, novels have tended to focus on less obviously exploitational content. Although the plots may require readers to walk through settings where people are being victimised or they have come to escape victimisation, these have been in the background. Now authors are parading their own outrage through their novels, some explicitly using the medium to engage in a political debate about how “we” should react. In this book, we’re given a terrific adventure/crime plot. What the young men find in Hungary and why this is of interest to people in Denmark are credible. The question we should ask ourselves is whether the plot becomes the basis of a better novel because the young men are Roma and Nina gets involved with them because they are in the country illegally. It would have been perfectly possible to write this without any reference to the suffering of the Roma, making the book a straight antiterrorism story about a criminal gang smuggling people and “stuff” across borders. Nina could meet the injured Sandor in the street and, as the Good Samaritan, find herself caught up in exactly the same way. I’m not saying that I don’t want to read about the terrible treatment of people who find themselves in Denmark illegally. In this case, the “truth” exposed by the novel is yet one more piece of suffering to add to the many others. I suppose it’s slightly more shocking because I still tend to think of Denmark as better than this. But I’m not entirely convinced this is a “better” novel because it dips into the seamy side of Denmark and shows us where some of the bodies are buried (literally and metaphorically). So taken in the best possible light, Invisible Murder is a powerful book which deals with a threatened terrorist attack in Copenhagen. It’s an exciting thriller. But I remain on the fence as to whether I approve of this politicisation of novel writing.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.
Not Dead Yet by Peter James (Minotaur Books, 2012) is the eighth in the Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series. He and the young hopeful Glenn Branson are up to their elbows in chickenshit jokes when a body missing its limbs and head (no chance of it being recruited by Chickenfoot) is discovered on an environmentally friendly factory farm. Even though he would prefer the quiet life dealing with this outbreak of foul play, Grace finds himself forced into the front line to defend Gaia Lafayette, a Lady Gaga-like megastar, from predatory fans and equally homicidal stalkers. She’s visiting Brighton as the lead actress in a historical drama to be filmed in the Pavilion. On the home front, a vicious criminal with a grudge is released from jail and, if Grace reads the signs right, is immediately focused on revenge for his imprisonment. This threat includes the now pregnant Clio. And also secretly back in Brighton is Grace’s wife. She’s been prompted to return by seeing adverts initiating a presumption of death hearing to clear the way for Grace to marry Clio.
By any standards, you would have to classify this book as ”busy”, i.e. it crams multiple plot lines together hugger-mugger, delivering the appearance of pace and excitement through almost 130 chapters, some only a few lines long. This is both a strength and a weakness. I note the slight irony that this book and the other Roy Grace books that precede it, have constantly shifting points of view and we only get to see our supposed hero from time to time. Although, as is usually the case, our hero does rise to the occasion and stands centre-stage in the final few chapters.
I have the sense this book is slightly overegged. My apologies to my readers for using an idiomatic British word. Those of you who cook will know you can put too much egg into a cake mix. Even though eggs are a vital ingredient, you can have too much and it spoils the result. In this case, we even get payback to Kevin Spinella, the reporter from the Argus (Brighton’s local newspaper). I’m not saying everything that happens is not interesting. Far from it. But there’s a lot of information here that, while relevant, could safely have been left for the next book. That said, the core story is strong.
One of the curses of celebrity is that it can attract the attention of stalkers. These are obsessive individuals who harass and intimidate the objects of their attention. In most cases, the stalkers delude themselves into believing they have a relationship with their victims. This leads them to send emails and gifts, followed up by other behaviour designed to communicate their affection or love. I’m prepared to believe Peter James on this subject since he reports his own experiences of being stalked. In this novel, we have a group of obsessive fans who compete with each other to put together the most comprehensive collection of Gaia memorabilia. The star regularly auctions off costumes and other personalised items on eBay, passing on the proceeds to charity. The pervasive lack of rationality leads to excessive prices being paid as the group members bid each other up. Naturally, when one person has the cash to outbid the others, this leads to resentment. However, with their star visiting England, everyone has the chance for forging a more personal connection. The other theme running through the book is the unethical way the film industry works, often borrowing script ideas without attribution or payment for the rights. This also leads to bitterness and resentment, and would give spurned scriptwriters a motive for wanting to derail a production based on work stolen from them. Well, I did warn you this was a busy plot.
As a character, I like Roy Grace. Unlike many of his competitors, he’s neither complicated nor miserable. There’s a strong sense of integrity about him in most of his decisions. This does not prevent him from bullying or pressuring those who threaten his interests. As the holder of a senior rank, he’s used to getting his own way and does not sit quietly in a corner. If there’s a threat to be confronted, he’s out in front leading the charge. I suppose this more straightforward quality comes from the format. In a police procedural, the author has to make the character of the lead detective the main focus. We will watch the thinking processes as he or she guides the investigation. Such cerebral pursuit often requires the author to make the personal qualities of the mind slightly more extreme. Not that all detectives are manic depressives or prone to wildly eccentric behaviour. But authors seem to people their novels with individuals who have slightly more than the usual range of emotional issues. Peter James does not write “traditional” police procedurals. There’s always quite a strong thriller element as our heroic Detective Superintendent is required to fight in his own defence and the defence of others. The ability to drop into adventure or thriller mode removes the need to make Grace himself a more complicated person. He lost his first wife. He has a new reasonably stable relationship. He’s well liked and respected at work. Insofar as anyone can be, he’s happy. That’s enough to be going on with.
Put all this together and Not Dead Yet is good but not one of the best Roy Grace novels. For my taste, there’s just too much going on and it distracts from what would otherwise have been a gripping linear investigation. As a final aside, the image used on the jacket is nicely atmospheric and, as in the book, makes a feature of Brighton which is one of my favourite south coast seaside towns (further promotional tourism content can be provided at my usual professional rates).
For a review of another novel by Peter James, see Dead Man’s Grip.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.