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Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter

July 20, 2014 1 comment

gemsigns-12-9-133

Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter (Jo Fletcher Books, 2013) is the first in the ®Evolution trilogy. As in all good allegorical novels, it begins in the ultimately ironic way. The young paint this century as the best ever because of the unprecedented degree of interconnectivity. Misguidedly, they see only benefit in being soaked in microwave radiation from birth. But, as this author points out, this slow cooking can be bad for the brain. So, as ever more people become mobile receivers for inward transmissions of all varieties, they begin to shut down. This medical condition is dubbed The Syndrome. In the past, when the world faced a catastrophe, it always came up with the best possible names. Think Black Death and our two shots at a World War. These resonate through history. So with depopulation by internet coming to an iPad near you, scientists set to and devise a genetic manipulation that will keep the next generation alive. And while they were saving the world, they decided to create a set of specialised subclasses of workers.

“What?” you all cry with one voice (which is pretty clever when you think about it). “Not another of these ‘they cloned my mother and made a race of Martians’ books?” Well, unapologetically, yes! Although there have been few good examples of this trope over the decades (and an awful lot of bad ones), this proves to be very good, i.e. it transcends the lack of originality by the intelligence of its approach. We start off some time in the future. The world has seen itself recover from the population and economic losses to build a technologically quieter environment for humans to inhabit. When it has had a chance to draw breath and reflect on the means, the norms recognise this minor renaissance has been achieved on the backs of a new race of indentured slaves called gems. In a moment of political bravery, the world takes a step back and, by implication, performs an act of manumission. Whereas all the product of the gene companies had been deemed their property, the gems were liberated. There was just one problem. It’s one thing to sever links between an owner and its property. It’s quite a different kettle of fish (some of the genetically modified were equipped with gills and designed to work underwater) to enact laws to give all these modified humans formal rights and prevent discrimination against them.

Stephanie Saulter

Stephanie Saulter

To help people understand the issues, a team is appointed to spend a year producing what’s intended to be an objective report recommending what should be done. The leader of this group is Eli Walker and, even though his reputation as a genetic anthropologist is unimpeachable, he comes under serious pressure from the gene companies who want to recover ownership of their property. Very late in the day Zavcka Klist, a senior officer of one of the gene companies, gives him a video showing one of its gems running out of control. She tries to persuade Eli there’s a genetic flaw in a significant number of the gems which makes them a danger to the norms. The gem’s leader as we come into the opening of this conference on Christmas Eve is Aryel Morningstar. This should give you a very solid clue about the symbolism of this book. Many of the characters have names directly or indirectly relevant to the Christian belief system, and the point of the book is to discuss the morality of an explicit slavery or an unadmitted form of servitude. For these purposes, we have a mainstream church, a group whose self-appointed mission is to protect the norms from gems by operating as vengeful godgangs, the corporate “ex-slave owners”, the scientific community, the police, the politicians, and the gems themselves in all their myriad glory (or not because many have been seriously abused by the gene companies and left disabled). By shifting the point of view and showing interaction between representatives of the different groups, the range of arguments is rehearsed.

From this, you’ll understand this is a relatively quiet book of ideas rather than some action-packed adventure yarn of mutants saving themselves from abuse and so making a brave new world for all. Equally, it’s not really a dystopian novel although the gene companies are the predatory capitalist exploiters we might expect. In a sense, we’re invited to see this as the story of individual families and communities under pressure, with their leaders facing difficult decisions. This is not to say the book is without action. There are a number of violent deaths and, as you would expect, there’s a big climax at the end where the symbolism almost gets too obvious (in spirit, it reminded me of the revelation at the end of Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke, although it equally borrows something from one of the X-Men movies). Putting all this together, Gemsigns is an impressive first novel with an an overarching sense of intelligence well to the fore. This does not make it “literary science fiction”. Rather Saulter has found a useful set of metaphors through which to explore what it means to be human and under what circumstances, if any, a human might lose the right to be treated with respect. It will be interesting to see where the second book takes us in this future world in ethical transition.

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

Poison Pill by Glenn Kaplan

July 19, 2014 1 comment

Poison Pill by Glenn Kaplan

Poison Pill by Glenn Kaplan (Forge, 2013) is presented to us as a sophisticated financial thriller in which a Russian billionaire sets his sights on acquiring a traditional medium-sized pharmaceutical manufacturer because of a drug in the pipeline he believes will make him even richer. This pits the target company’s CEO, Emma Conway, against her ex-husband Josh Katz who heads the corporate raider with the brief to mount a hostile takeover. OK let me stop there. We have all the elements in those opening sentences to make this a real pot-boiling melodrama. Feuding ex-spouses and their young son Peter have this love-hate relationship. To amp up the emotional baggage to be carried through to the end of the book, the Russian’s daughter Tanya, gets pregnant thanks to Peter Katz’s unprotected efforts. So with the odd girlfriend, current lover, and other stereotypical characters lurking on the margins, we’re expected to find this farrago of rubbish not only interesting but exciting. Some hope!

Glenn Kaplan

Glenn Kaplan

Josh Katz is one of these amoral characters who’s fought his way up from a poor background to be “someone”. On the surface, he’s supposed to be the modern embodiment of the Gordon Gekko greed-is-good Wall Street manipulator but, within that titanium exterior there beats a heart. Emma Conway, on the other hand, is one of these women born into a family culture where the business and what it represents is everything. She’s as far as it’s possible to get in the company-as-a-person stakes. This is a pharmaceutical company that may be run for profit but her family has always seen its mission as being the benefit of patients around the world. It’s also about all the jobs locally and the strength of community people can feel in being a part of a company bent of doing so much good in the world.

The plot, for want of a better word, is boldly stated in the title. The pharmaceutical company has a poison pill defence all lined up should any takeover be threatened. To beat this, our Russian billionaire has one of his soldiers infiltrate the main factory and dump a large quantity of cyanide in the vats making the biggest selling painkiller. When trust-me-I-know-what-I’m-doing Conway recalls every last pill the company has made to maintain the public’s trust, this is a massive blow to the company’s profit. It’s share price drops like a stone and it gives a basis from which to argue for a very generous rescue bid.

Unfortunately, this is as far as the detail of the “business” goes. My money says that any author worth his salt who wants to write a financial thriller should tell us in far more detail how the takeover has to be managed and how the poisoned pill defence works. We never get to hear any of the detailed discussions of corporate strategy on either side of the battle. The primary focus of the book is on the five characters who, between them, represent the source of all the problems and then their solution. For this book to be even remotely credible, Emma Conway would have to be a tough, ruthless CEO who will let nothing stand in her way when it comes to defending the company. Unfortunately, this would probably make her relatively unlikeable. Culturally, many readers are disturbed by “strong” women characters who beat the pants off the men around them. This leaves us with a woman who comes over as a pill-hugging, save-the-world type who threatens to burst into Kumbaya at the end of all her inspirational speeches. Her son is one of these game-playing teens who’s so full of shit, he thinks he’s going to bring his parents’ marriage back to life. while Tanya is almost completely unrecognisable as a human being, so spoilt and petulant is she. Theres no way she’s going to let herself be married off to her father’s choice so, in the best traditions of a coincidence, she sleeps with Josh not knowing or caring who he is. Isn’t it wonderful how, sometimes, all the elements of a plot just come together as if by magic. Or put another way, Poison Pill is a woeful example of a thriller that should have been left in a bottom drawer and never allowed to see the light of day.

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

Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4

Naniwa_Shonen_Tanteidan-p1

Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) is based on the Keigo Higashino novels Naniwa Shonen Tanteida (1988) and its sequel Shinobu Senseni Sayonara (1996). Our first view of Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe) comes as she berates a driving instructor for being overly critical of her driving skills. In its own right, this is a bravura performance, inciting fear in all who see her in full flow. However, she’s been lucky enough to land a temporary role as a homeroom teacher at Ooki Elementary School in Osaka, Japan. Her mother Taeko Takeuchi (Keiko Matsuzaka) has begged her to keep her temper in check. Since this is a probationary post, any violent outburst is likely to be her last. Half the fun of watching this serial is waiting for the chance for her to show her volcanic side. Fortunately, the head teacher Yukio Nakata (Fumiyo Kohinata) is one of these world-weary professionals who’s seen everything in a long career and is prepared to see people as a mixture of good and bad. So long as the bad does not dominate, he’s prepared to see only the good. The problem comes with Mika Haruna (Fumino Kimura) who has tenure and strongly disapproves the exuberant enthusiasm of the newcomer.

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe)

Shinobu Takeuchi (Mikako Tabe)

 

On her first day at school, one boy does not appear and she quickly learns his father has been murdered. As a lifelong fan of detective fiction, she can’t resist tuning in to all the gossip about the boy and his family. She’s very quickly as knowledgeable as the two detectives assigned to deal with the case. There’s Shuhei Shindo (Teppei Koike) the good-looking young detective, and Susumu Urushizaki (Yasunori Danta) the seasoned detective who’s most likely to get on the right track. We therefore get a twin-track view of each investigation. In this first case, the detectives go carefully through all the locals who might have had motive and opportunity but can’t find a suspect. The only piece of information that might mean something is an older lady’s assertion she saw a truck being driven by a ghost. From the other side, Shinobu Takeuchi soon crosses swords with Shuhei Shindo and is quicker to understand the significance of where the truck used to be parked when father and son sold hot meals from the back. It’s a really pleasing moment in a completely delightful first episode. Our first view of the titular junior detectives is also encouraging. They are Tetpei Tanaka (Tatsuomi Hamada), Hiroshi Hatanaka (Akira Takahashi) and Ikuo Harada (Koki Maeda) with Osamu Harada (Oshiro Maeda) allowed into the team through the cronyism of his brother. The parents of the latter pair are Masao Harada (Yoichi Nukumizu) and Hideko Harada (Yuki Saito) who run a bar/eatery.

 

They feature in the second episode. Their marriage has been under strain as she enters a form of midlife crisis, preferring the fantasy of a Korean soap star to the reality of her life in the eatery. She decides to learn to drive as a gesture at establishing her own independence. Unfortunately, the driving instructor is handsome and looks not unlike her star, so she’s tempted into the idea she will stray. Unfortunately, before she can act on this, there’s a serious crash while she’s driving. Her instructor ends up in the ICU. So the problem is to decide who’s responsible for the accident and why dog shit has been appearing outside Shinobu Takeuchi’s home. Yes, unlikely though it is, there’s a connection. Although it’s a slight story, there’s an essential amiability about the emerging sense of community on display as local people wander the streets and keep out an eye for each other. The faintly comic car chase at the end seals an enjoyable episode. To help get everyone involved, Susumu Urushizaki is also smitten by Taeko Takeuchi, offering us the chance for the two police officers to marry into the same family — no wait, Taeko Takeuchi is married, but not averse to feeding the detective his favorite dishes whenever he’s in the area.

Shuhei Shindo (Teppei Koike)

Shuhei Shindo (Teppei Koike)

 

The third episode sees a potential triangle emerging as Yukio Nakata, head teacher, sets up a “blind date”. In Japanese society, he and her mother both go to a neutral venue to meet Yoshihiko Honma (Koji Yamamoto), a potential young man with the right qualifications of status and salary for marriage. Of course, he’s not only completely unsuitable, he also seems to have used this meeting as his alibi to commit a murder. This gives an edge to the investigation as Shuhei Shindo is jealous and has the power to make life for the rival difficult. So this all comes down to a question of opportunity with the three (or possibly four) suspects having an alibi. Naturally, our girl is quick to see the problem with her potential fiancé’s story — it’s all to do with when it started to rain and where he might have been when that happened. This is quite pleasing. Susumu Urushizaki is able to trick the real killer into an admission which is a bit contrived but it does just about tie up the loose ends before it all gets too confusing.

The junior detectives

The junior detectives

 

The fourth episode treads a narrow line between entertainment and a learning opportunity for viewers. We start off watching our heroic teacher team-building through softball. During this happy hour, she impresses both Mika Haruna with a softball through her classroom window as she’s trying to teach music, and Senbai Nishimaru Keizo Kanie http://asianwiki.com/Zen_Kajihara , an old man who allowed his son, Shoichi Nishimaru (Zen Kajihara) to take over the running of the family company. Unfortunately, the son is making a mess of this task and the old man wants to headhunt our teacher to show him how a group should work together to get the best results. Interestingly, the old man is magnificently miserly, but apparently has a heart of gold. Except, when our hero and the three young detectives are in his house, one of his employees dies. This may be a murder, suicide or accident as the man is found dying under a broken fourth storey office window. The old man runs inside the office block while our hero calls for ambulance and police. When she goes into the office block, the old man is just coming out of the lift. Reluctantly, he allows them all up to the office. He unlocks the door and lets them see the office which has the dead man’s shoes in front of the window. When she looks, she sees the man’s keys on his desk. So it seems he locked himself inside the office and then jumped, i.e. it’s a suicide. Our two police officers then arrive and our hero brings them up to speed — she’s now very much a part of their team. Indeed, when she later goes home, she finds them waiting for her eating her mother’s cooking. Susumu Urushizaki is distinctly more interested in her mother than the case. The answer to the case is actually very clever and fits in nicely with the message to give the autocratic son as manager. The other feature of this episode is that Yoshihiko Honma has met Mika Haruna. They share exactly the same interests and would be ideally suited. The problem now is for our hero to realise this is her escape from a marriage fate worse than death. All she has to do is push this pair together.

 

For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)
Broken or The Hovering Blade or Banghwanghaneun Kalnal or 방황하는 칼날 (2014)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 1 and 2
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 3 and 4
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 5 and 6
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 7, 8 and 9
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 10 and 11
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Platinum Data or プラチナデータ (2013)
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 1 to 5
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ~劇場版・新参者~ (2012)

 

For a Galileo novel, see Salvation of a Saint.

 

The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Filippo

July 17, 2014 2 comments

The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Filippo

The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul Di Filippo is a reprint collection from Open Road Media, 2014. It was originally published in 1995 by Four Walls Eight Windows, and contains three novellas: “Victoria” (1991), “Hottentots” (1995) shortlisted for the 1996 Locus Award for Best Novella, and “Walt and Emily” (1993) published in two parts by Interzone and shortlisted for the 1994 Locus Award for Best Novella. Ignore the title: recognise that these novellas are not about great airships and mechanical inventiveness on a large scale. Rather this is steampunk as a state of mind. As emotionally repressed people, the Victorians feared they would lose control if their inner passions were allowed free rein. Think Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde with a beast lurking inside the sack of skin, just waiting for the chance to take over and cause mayhem. Although it may make us feel more comfortable to restrict this historical trait to sexual behaviour and the threat of men being overtaken by their lust, the reality was a more general exuberance of greed and selfishness, cruelty and ambition — build an empire before tea, exploit it to the maximum possible, and then lose it all as night falls and the downtrodden refuse to accept the continuing abuse.

We start off in the same style as The Importance of Being a Nest by Wilde Birds with The Importance of Being a Newt. Yes, this is the story of Cosmo Cowperthwait who, having expunged Letchworth from the map (those of you interested in this phenomenon should read the excellent Queen Victoria’s Bomb by Ronald W Clark), turned his attention to genetic engineering, hoping to satisfy his scientific curiosity by scaling up a newt to human size. Coincidentally, because books like this thrive on the comic effect generated by coincidences, he names his life-sized newt Victoria so, when the Queen of the same name goes walkabout, who else should the prime minister think of putting on the throne as a temporary replacement but the newt? As you will gather from these few sentences, this novella begins with a certain level of absurdity and then elevates the absurdity to previously undreamed of levels. It’s a masterpiece as our heroic inventor and genetic manipulatist ransacks London in search of the missing queen, fighting off temptation from an early suffragette whose self-appointed task is to relieve the suffering of women at the hands of men, only to end up where he started out albeit on a more private basis. Di Filippo’s take on the half-human, half-newt is as a sex toy for the rich that may, in the long term, prove to have a mind of her own. It’s simply an ironic commentary on the science that the combination of the animal and the human produces a more naturally sexual “animal” save that the human Queen Victoria is also discovering the diversity of sexual experience in an upmarket brothel. It seems newt genes and leadership pressures make sexual champions of us all. Although some of the humour is a little “obvious”, this remains great fun to read.

Paul Di Filippo

Paul Di Filippo

“Hottentots” is high quality satire that begins by skewering some of the prejudices that would have been prevalent in Victorian times. Fortunately, in our current post-racial times, we could not possibly hold such bigoted views or, if we did, we would carefully avoid expressing them in public. From our position of enlightenment, it gives us a chance to consider the basis of the beliefs that produced ideas of Übermensch, racial supremacism, eugenics, and so on. Our hero, Louis Agassiz, for want of a better way of describing the man, is a Swiss national working to establish a scientific centre in America. Apart from the intellectually elite to be found in places of learning such as Harvard, he considers America a dire melting pot in which miscegenation has run riot, irrecoverably polluting the gene pool and producing a potentially subhuman underclass of simple-minded people. You can therefore imagine his horror when his calm progress through life is disturbed by the arrival of a white man and his Hottentot bride who are intent upon recovering a lost fetish. There’s much tooing and froing as Agassiz attempts to reconcile his desire for a rational view of the world with the somewhat irrational occurrences around him. All this would have been more successful if the character of the man had been more likeable. But, from the outset, we’re shown how ghastly he is (by modern standards) and so have no sympathy for him at all.

“Walt and Emily” is about Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson who are involved in that most Victorian of pastimes: the pursuit of the supernatural through the séance and other mechanisms for interacting with the spirit world. Emily’s brother, Austin, seeks a way to communicate with his two aborted children. He hopes the Spiritualist Madam Hrose Selavy is the real deal and engages Walt and Emily to investigate the medium’s claims not only to communicate with the dead, but also transport the living into the spirit world. This involves us trying to reconcile science and the supernatural as the medium discharges ideoplasm from her breasts and transports our poets to an encounter with Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath and Ezra Pound. There’s a general sense of fun as literary sensibilities are explored across the ages but, as with the other stories, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea. As in the other novellas, there’s also a sexual component to the story.

Although there are monsters on display, some more Lovecraftian than others, and there are some beautifully rendered mechanical ideas to satisfy those who want their steampunk to be about machines rather than ideas, full enjoyment of these three stories is somewhat dependent on being familiar with the more general Victorian writing styles and the particular literary flourishes of the poets in the last novella. This is not to say the modern reader will not enjoy these stories, but they will deliver more enjoyment if you have some background in the history and literature of Victorian times. With that caveat, I recommend The Steampunk Trilogy as producing a nicely balanced and occasionally humorous set of alternate histories for us to explore.

For a review of another work by Paul Di Filippo, see Cosmocopia.

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

The Silk Map by Chris Willrich

July 16, 2014 1 comment

silk map

The Silk Map by Chris Willrich (Pyr, 2014) offers a story of two heroes, Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone, plus Snow Pine and a number of others who, for various reasons, get sucked into the quest for the Iron Moths and their (magical) silk. Yes we’re into that most dangerous of fantasy tropes: the quest! In the more innocent days of the last century, sword-wielding barbarians, usually accompanied by a thief and a wizard, set off across an alien landscape to find treasure. On the way, they would battle magical thingummies and bed a few (usually voluptuous) women in a style that would appeal to the boy hero lurking inside every (adult male) reader. They were simple, linear narratives, good for nothing but to get from point A to point B having killed as many thingamabobs and bedded as many women as possible. Then along came a more humorous approach which treated the whole idea of sword and sorcery as a joke and decided to have as much fun as possible killing and having sex (although not necessarily in that order). All of which brings us to the modern day when authors look back in despair at the decades of inventiveness that have gone before them. These writers therefore rise to the challenge of differentiating themselves from the past by producing ever more complicated fantasy worlds for their heroes to travel across and fight things (sex is optional or mandatory with as many as fifty different shades of activity described).

Chris Willrich seems to have been primarily interested in Chinese mythology. One of the most famous gods of the Middle Kingdom is Monkey aka Sun-Wukong. He first surfaces in the sixteenth century. Journey To The West (Xiyou Ji) by Wu Cheng’en finds a rock on the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers soaking up the chi. It becomes pregnant and gives birth to the Monkey which immediately jumps off to have fun. But because he challenges Heaven, Buddha pins him on the ground by placing a mountain on top of him. To get anything out of this book, it’s as well to know other features of Chinese mythology (even though this version of Monkey is, for no terribly obvious reason, female), plus some of the One-Thousand-and-One Arabian Nights stories (including the inner secrets of flying carpets), plus some of the fairy story mythology surrounding Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, and others. When it comes to the art of conflation, this one’s a doozy all wrapped up in a quest not unlike the good old days of sword and sorcery, and Dungeons and Dragons.Chris Willrich

Now I don’t mind this type of book if it’s done with wit and style. Even though it may be reinventing the wheel, the prose can give life and direction to plausible characters as they tramp (or fly) across the landscape to realise their destinies. In theory, this particular plot has a good staring point. At the end of the first book, our heroes had to hide their child away in a pocket dimension. Now they have to get into that dimension to recover what has been lost. Monkey offers them a deal. If they find the Iron Moths, enlightenment on the subject of dimensions will follow. So off they go, acquiring travelling companions who may be benign, and encountering the daughters of the Khan, and the inevitable group who sees it as their task in life to defend the Iron Moths against interlopers.

Unfortunately, this book is written in turgid prose and has characters that fail to come over as even remotely plausible. Our parents who have so carefully sequestered their son, Innocent (ha, there’s a name guaranteed to spell trouble) out of danger seem somehow calm. Not in a fatalistic way, you understand. At times their actions seem rather divorced from the emotional trauma they should be feeling. Indeed, I was occasionally baffled by their behaviour as a couple. Perhaps I’m missing some key information from the first in the series, but this pair don’t really seem to be coherent people at all. It’s the same with the other mother who has also placed her daughter with Innocent in this alternate dimension (trusting the name is never enough). Snow Pine is also remarkably enigmatic, reactive rather than proactive for most of the time until she’s let loose on the demons at the end — then she can be proactive in a deadly kind of way. It’s just three people going with the flow and ending up in more or less the right place at the end for the big battle and the not very unfavorable ending. So when you put all this together, I regret to say this book is barely readable. In the best tradition of the phrase, I didn’t give a damn about any of the people and thought the situations tiresomely clichéd. It’s far too long and, at times, I think the author lost track of what his characters were supposed to be feeling or doing. It gets confusing, to say the least. So although the Silk Map is not quite the worst book of the year so far, it’s certainly in the bottom five in terms of readability and I seriously warn people against trying it.

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

11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)

July 15, 2014 17 comments

11_Moji_no_Satsujin-p2

11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011) is the first of three made-for-television adaptations of novels by Keigo Higashino. Rikako Yuki (Hiromi Nagasaku) is a mystery novelist who’s suffering from writer’s block. After the breakdown of her marriage, she’s been growing closer to a man who works as a freelance journalist. Of late, however, his work has been drying up and debts have become more of a problem. In their last meeting, he tells her he thinks someone may be targeting him. When she asks why he feels threatened, he’s very noncommittal. When he calls her that night, she’s in a meeting with her editor, Fuyuko Hakio (Mari Hoshino) and feels unable to come out to meet with him. The following morning, she’s woken by the police. Her lover has been found dead in the river. It’s not certain whether this is an accident or suicide. Naturally, for all his problems, she doesn’t believe he would have committed suicide. She favours the idea it was murder, but has no idea who would have motive. She therefore decides to investigate. In part, she’s doing it to protect the reputation of her dead lover, but she also hopes it might help her break the writer’s block, i.e. give her a story to write. This latter reason makes her editor supportive and she decides to offer practical help as and when required.

Rikako Yuki (Hiromi Nagasaku) and Fuyuko Hakio (Mari Hoshino)

Rikako Yuki (Hiromi Nagasaku) and Fuyuko Hakio (Mari Hoshino)

 

When our now formally anointed amateur detective goes round to her ex-lover’s apartment, she finds his sister removing all his things. She begs everything connected with his writing, hoping to find some clue in his latest research. With everything packed, a carrier comes to take the boxes away, but this is interrupted by the arrival of a young lady. She identifies herself as a photographer who was working with the man on a story. She wants to recover some of her photographs. With everything already packed, it’s arranged she will come round to collect the material after it’s been delivered. Meanwhile, Fuyuko Hakio has arranged for our detective to visit her lover’s publisher. While there, there are hints of a boating accident about a year earlier in which her lover had injured his leg. This ties in with an entry in her lover’s diary which shows a meeting with Takuya Yamamori (Ken Ishiguro), the president of a large gym who had sponsored the boat trip which led to the accident. Ever quick off the mark, Fuyuko Hakio lines up an appointment but, when they arrive at the gym, there’s a delay. To fill in the time, they are given a special short session working out. The actual meeting with the director proves slightly inconclusive. When she arrives home, our detective immediately sees the boxes which were delivered have been opened. All her lover’s most recent material has been removed.

Ishiguro Ken

Ishiguro Ken

 

This sets us off and running fairly quickly through an interestingly complex plot. The only time it slows down is for a flashback showing exactly why our mystery author has writer’s block. As a mystery, it doesn’t seem to be going very far very quickly until we get to the last death when there’s a most interesting alibi for everyone who might have done it. It’s moments like this that make the author of the source novel, Keigo Higashino, so interesting. Up to this point, we seem to have a fairly routine serial killer who’s systematically killing off everyone connected with that boating accident (the title of the book/film is a reference to the eleven character message sent to each victim). But this last death not only fails to fit the pattern. It also seems to be “impossible” because there’s no doubt where everyone is at the relevant time. So this leaves me with good news and not-so-good news. My dislike of coincidence in a work of fiction is well documented in all these reviews. There are times when it’s unavoidable to get everything started off, e.g. that two people just happen to get on the same train, but in the main, I find the use of coincidence rather depressing. This time, there’s a clear explanation for the coincidence, so Keigo Higashino and his scriptwriter were aware of the problem. Ecept explaining it doesn’t make it any better. That said, this is one of these stories which deals with the grey in human relationships. In fiction, it’s always easier when the author decides to paint characters and situations in black and white. We readers or viewers are left with very simple moral choices about who to sympathise with. Here, very little is morally cut-and-dried. Indeed, the more you look at the picture which finally emerges as all the relevant people confess what happened, the less you want to make any decisions about it at all. I suppose that’s what makes 11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 a very good story and explains why our mystery writer will probably join in the conspiracy of silence.

 

For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
Broken or The Hovering Blade or Banghwanghaneun Kalnal or 방황하는 칼날 (2014)
Brutus’ Heart or Brutus no Shinzo or ブルータスの心臓 (2011)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 1 and 2
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 3 and 4
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 5 and 6
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 7, 8 and 9
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 10 and 11
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Platinum Data or プラチナデータ (2013)
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 1 to 5
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ~劇場版・新参者~ (2012)

 

For a Galileo novel, see Salvation of a Saint.

 

Beware Beware by Steph Cha

July 13, 2014 1 comment

Beware Beware by Steph Cha

Beware Beware by Steph Cha (Minotaur, 2014) has an immediate point of interest. When it comes to characterisation, I’m completely indifferent as to who the author picks as the point of view. My only requirement is that the individual feels reasonably credible and that I can learn something about what it feels like to be that person. So, as a now semi-fossilised man who first got a clear understanding of the world before the excitement of feminism moved the 1960s forward in the debate about liberation and gender equality, I often find myself depressed by the failure of contemporary writers to show the appalling discrimination still visited on women and the other marginalised sexual communities. With seminal books like The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer becoming best-sellers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I had hoped for better.

So this is the second book to feature Juniper Song. In theory, this is my chance to learn something of the life of a Korean American woman and about Koreatown in LA. She has completed the transition from Yale graduate into a job learning the ropes as a private investigator. For those of you who missed Follow Her Home (2013), her efforts as an amateur sleuth got her best friend killed. Now, under the supposed guidance of Chaz Lindley, she’s handed-off to Daphne Freamon, a painter who lives in New York. It seems the client’s boyfriend, Jamie Landon, is currently in LA acting as a ghostwriter for film star Joe Tilley. That he may either be snorting coke or dealing it, is offered as a possible explanation for him failing to stay in touch with Daphne. When Joe Tilley is found dead in his hotel bath tub after what seems to have been one of his traditionally debauched parties, Jamie becomes a person of interest. This brings Daphne to town and the show can get on the road. As a subplot, a sinister man is stalking Lori, Song’s roommate. Fortunately, he’s shot before he can do any serious damage. This gives us two deaths to think about.

First as to the plot: this is one of these deceptively simple stories. I suppose it follows in the classic PI novel tradition of having a dogged detective go round the town talking with people. Some our detective manages to extract useful information from. Others clam up when the wrong questions are asked. Such are the highs and lows when you pound the mean streets. The point of the exercise is, of course, to work out who everyone is and, more importantly, what their history is. This all works well as our PI slowly peels away the layers of onion, all the while finding the tears beginning to flow. Indeed, at one point, her questions are the direct cause of another death. This is chastening (i.e. psychologically traumatic). When you look back, this is nicely constructed and elegantly simple both as a mystery and a thriller.

Steph Cha

Steph Cha

But I have a problem with the Korean connection. I recognise the physical places and, in more recent years, I too have sipped my way through some high ABV soju with appropriately pleasing results. To that extent, the book does justice to the transplanted food and alcohol. But apart from one brief mention of racial tension, there’s no effort made to deal with the sometimes difficult relationship between the Korean community and the surrounding cultures, nor between the older and younger generations of Koreans. We do get some indication of both alliances between Koreans and Mexicans in gang culture, and involvement in more general crime by some in the Korean community. The author, however, prefers not to deal with the often quite serious racism afflicting the non-white communities, save that there’s some reference to the difficulty African Americans have in gaining acceptance by Hollywood. But it’s when we come to the sexism the author steps out of the real and into a fantasy PI world.

In the interests of balance, I admit one of the themes of the book is the willful failure of male-dominated organisations including police forces to investigate allegations of rape. Even at the best of times, it’s assumed the women are partly to blame even though it’s the men who force women to wear sexualised clothing. This is also seen in the failure of the courts to give priority to Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” to create real sex discrimination provisions, e.g. to prevent decisions as in the Hobby Holly case which makes the notion of a woman’s autonomy over her own body subject the the religious scruples of others. With the disapproving allowed to picket outside clinics providing abortion services to discourage women from entering, even rape victims find it difficult to terminate the unwanted child.

It may be bad for women in general, but Juniper Song is a Korean American woman who’s trying to navigate her way through the currents of Korean culture, the slightly rarified world of Hollywood stardom and the agents and managers who protect the illusion of magic, and the sceptical world of the police. Let’s start in Korean culture. This is one of the more extreme examples of patriarchal control. Despite the modernity of the country, South Korea has not progressed very far beyond mediaeval times when it comes to the question of gender equality. This male dominance has come under pressure through the move to America. The older Koreans have therefore resorted to ghettoisation in an attempt to retain the old values by holding themselves aloof from the surrounding world. But the young inevitably mix outside the ghetto walls and are infected by Western ideas of equality. This produces sometimes quite violent responses. When it comes to the police, our hero is given a female homicide detective to deal with. How convenient! No-one of any race or gender refuses to speak with her or is less than polite to her (at least, when she’s sober). The only feature that marks her out from the norm is her willingness to drink excessive amounts of alcohol and thereby put herself in danger. Sadly, this recklessness is not limited to Korean American women.

Put all this together and Beware Beware is a good story (the title referring to a painting), but I’m greatly saddened by the failure to be honest about the problems faced by non-white women in a fundamentally racist and sexist society. Just singling out rape and the problems faced by women who try to complain of sexual assault highlights the tip of the iceberg. This is not to say I’m for a more literary style of books that examine social issues at a deeper level. I’m just against the idea books by women, presumably written for a mainly female readership, should conform to patriarchal expectations. Unless, of course, I’m perversely undervaluing the message of this book. Perhaps this book is really a rallying cry for women of the world to rise up in a wave of vigilanteism and, whenever a women is raped, advocating she and her sisters seek out the man responsible and string him up from the nearest tree (or street lamp if in a city). Now that would be radical feminism in action.

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

Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11

Thursday_Theater_Keigo_Higashino_Mystery-p1

Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) continues with more stories drawn from three novels “Hannin No Inai Satsujin No Yoru”, “Ayashii Hitobito” and “Ano Koro No Dareka” written by Keigo Higashino, the phenomenally successful Japanese author specialising in crime novels and short stories. Episode 6 could have been much better, but it confuses the viewers by failing to clarify questions of identity. When Shigehisa Bitou (Masanobu Ando) first meets Aoyama Yayoi (Masami Nagasawa), he unnecessarily misrepresents himself. I can see no good reason for him not being honest from the outset. Similarly, when the two team up to meet with Kiyomi Hatakeyama (Maiko), they pretend to be brother and sister. This is absurd. Hatakeyama already knows Shigehisa Bitou which is why they are allowed in to see her dying father. She should (a) address him by his real name, thereby alerting Aoyama Yayoi to the deception, and (b) know Shigehisa Bitou does not have a sister. However, the basic plot is actually interesting, depending for its solution on the way the Japanese write their characters. Whether this would have been what the murder victim chose to hint at in his final dying moments is quite a different matter. Some might say the whole episode is woefully contrived in the same spirit as Ellery Queen’s The Scarlett Letters. But I was prepared to overlook the set-up because I was curious to see how the writing would solve the case.

Masami Nagasawa

Masami Nagasawa

 

Episode 7 is another slightly underwhelming whydunnit rather than whodunnit. I’m not against exploring the psychological side of crimes but I was disappointed that the logic of why this particular death was not an accident or suicide was not properly developed. It’s an elegant idea and deserves better but, in the rush to make a point about the dangers of smoking, whether active or passive, everything else is reduced to a rather perfunctory level.

 

Episode 8 does its best to obscure a simple coming-of-age story set in the final year at school. Three students, Ryo Nakaoka (Haruma Miura), Tatsuya Yukihara (Takuro Ohno) and Yoko Saeki (Haru), have been together throughout their school career and then Tatsuya Yukihara “falls” from the top of a school building. It’s fairly obvious what must have happened, but the way the narrative is structured and shot goes above and beyond the call of duty to obscure the precise order of events. That way, we viewers can’t get to see who knew what and when. The outcome is everyone damaged because the culture of young people is often very protective of their emotions. Rather than risk exposure and loss, they prefer to hide their feelings. I suppose you can admire the technique on display, but the story proves uninvolving.

Ryoko Hirosue

Ryoko Hirosue

 

Episode 9 proves to be the most successful of the stories. Tomomi Iida (Ryoko Hirosue) a young woman has lost her fairly prestigious job and is wondering whether to take a drop in status and pay when she receives an unexpected letter from a woman she’d known at college. It seems her friend has married but, when she looks at the photograph, it shows a man and woman, but not the woman she knew. This piques her curiosity so, unannounced, she decides to travel to the sender’s address to explore this minor mystery. Except, it may not be a minor mystery. Her supposed husband, Masaaki Yamashita (Koji Ookura), is very evasive when they speak on the telephone, and refuses to meet with her when she goes to his office. No-one has seen Noriko Yamashita (Sayaka Yamaguchi) for days. Her cellphone is switched off and goes directly to voicemail. While talking with Yuji Sakurai (Takehiro Hira) the next-door neighbour, she gets the feeling she’s being watched. When she runs to the end of the corridor, she sees a figure carrying an oddly-coloured bag running away. When someone pushes her off a cliff, it’s obvious something is seriously wrong. Although it does become somewhat melodramatic, this nicely weaves suspicion and paranoia together to produce an entertaining episode.

 

Episode 10 has us back in a coming-of-age scenario when Asako Yamaoka (Ryoko Shinohara) worries about her relationship with Teruhiko Murakami (Seiichi Tanabe). He has nightmares and, for reasons he will not explain, does not want children. Uncertain whether he has a mistress, she decides to follow him when she sees him buying a big bunch of flowers. What follows is one of these stories of guilt when young boys are their usual selfish selves and may indirectly have been responsible for the death of a young girl who was one of these slightly annoying hangers on. The set-up is reasonable but, even in Japanese culture, I’m not entirely sure it would have worked out like this. In a way, it ends up rather frustrating because we’re only left with an inference. Nothing is properly explained.

Akiko Yada

Akiko Yada

 

Which leaves us with episode 11 as the final contribution to this collection of short stories. This is delightfully macabre and, as with any really good episode, nicely creeps up on the viewer. It all starts off perfectly innocently with a highly reputable doctor, Yumiko Kanzaki (Akiko Yada) who runs a fertility clinic, responding to a couple’s desire for children by finding a baby boy for them to adopt. The baby looks and behaves quite normally. As you would expect, both parents seem delighted. There’s just one oddity. Whereas they were expecting to pay a fee for this service, the woman doctor refuses payment. Uncertain how he’s supposed to react, Minekazu Negishi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa), the husband, contacts the doctor again and is surprised to be invited to a meal at a restaurant he used to visit regularly. She orders the wine and food he likes. It seems her background research into the suitability of this man to be an adoptive parent has been remarkably efficient. Except perhaps she wants something different as payment. Does she want sex with him? The answer to this and other questions is slowly revealed. It’s wonderful and stands alongside episode 9 as the joint best episode.

Kiichi Nakai

Kiichi Nakai

 

This just leaves me to say a few words about the murder investigation which frames each episode. This is inventive and nicely illuminates the themes of the plots from the individual episodes. The victim and editor of the mystery magazine who introduces each episode is played with considerable wit and style by Kiichi Nakai. From the outset, he claims to have been murdered, but no-one else who comes into the room agrees with this diagnosis. They all seem to think it was an accident (or, possibly, a suicide). Only in the last frame of the last episode do we get a clear indication of which way it’s likely to turn out. It was a very pleasing moment. Taken overall, the standard is slightly uneven, but the majority of episodes are very good to excellent.

 

For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)
Broken or The Hovering Blade or Banghwanghaneun Kalnal or 방황하는 칼날 (2014)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 1 and 2
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 3 and 4
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 5 and 6
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 7, 8 and 9
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 10 and 11
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Platinum Data or プラチナデータ (2013)
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 1 to 5
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ~劇場版・新参者~ (2012)

 

For a Galileo novel, see Salvation of a Saint.

 

The Return of the Discontinued Man by Mark Hodder

July 9, 2014 6 comments

TheReturn Of The Discontinued Man-large

The Return of the Discontinued Man by Mark Hodder (Pyr, 2014) is the fifth in the Burton and Swinburne series and it amply demonstrates the problem in having to deal with multiple parallel universes when, as an author, you have taken the strategic decision to limit yourself to a single protagonist. As an aside, the alternative approach is in the completely wonderful, The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold, where one man begets a multitude of himself (and, surprisingly, herself which is good for the perpetuation of themselves). Because we have a single point of view, we therefore face a slightly obscure first few chapters to this novel. In theory, each separate reality in the multiverse is a closed channel but, for our purposes, there’s a coincidence overload, i.e. because so many people in different universes do exactly the same thing at the same time, there’s an overload that breaks down some of the barriers. We first get to see the results of this at precisely 9 pm on the 15th February, 1860, as Babbage performs a critical experiment on the damaged time-travelling suit worn by Edward Oxford. Almost simultaneously in multiple time tracks, the damaged suits disappear. As the time bubble forms around them, there’s damage to Babbage. In part, this is physical with the precise removal of a limb. But it also induces a non-responsive (fugue) state. There’s no sign of life but, in an entirely mechanical being, it’s hard to tell what might have happened to the person stored inside.

In different parts of London, we also get the sudden appearance of Spring Heeled Jacks, all of whom prove to be disoriented but determined to find Burton. As a form of running joke, Burton is then serially barred from restaurants, clubs and organisations such as the Royal Geographical Society because he’s held responsible for all these Jacks turning up and disrupting normal business activities. Thanks in part to his ingestion of Saltzman’s tincture, Burton’s mind is also moving between universes and times. During these episodes, we pick up clues and pointers as to how the parallel worlds are faring and, perhaps more importantly, what happened in the future to persuade Edward Oxford to research time travel. We also have some unusual weather phenomena and, with the deposit of seeds, what seems to be a homage to H.G. Wells’ Martian red weed (the great man does show up again later in the book). However, once this excitement abates, the book becomes a slightly more conventional linear time travel exercise as our motley crew of chrononauts sets off into the future.

Mark Hodder

Mark Hodder

This has the supreme advantage that they may well be the catalyst for rewriting what happens in their future but, whenever they arrive when they are going, there should be a single timeline between their Victorian stating point and their finishing point (whatever the name of this era proves to be). In order to avoid overtaxing themselves and their machine, they plan to make the journey in a series of short hops. To pave the way, members of the Cannibal Club are told to go forth and multiply so there will be children and grandchildren waiting to greet them at each stopping point. Financial arrangements are also put in hand to ensure there will be enough money, if necessary, to rebuild their machine as they move forward in time. This gives us a series of snapshots of how the world could change. This is rather more successful than the first section of the book. It also shows us how Edward Oxford is emerging as the villain of the piece, and prepares the ground for the final battle when our heroic team arrives in the year when Edward Oxford first set off to travel to Victorian times. Needless to say, the time they find is nothing like the time Edward Oxford left. The bow wave of change has preceded them and the first version of Edward Oxford’s time has been completely overwritten.

In tone, most of the humour of the early books has disappeared to be replaced by a slightly more grim feeling as we survey the wreckage of the world as Edward Oxford and Burton’s movement through time, bends the future out of shape. Some of the ideas are interesting and we do have unintended consequences to genetic engineering albeit slightly more heavy-handed this time around to make a political point. But I have the sense this series is reaching the point it should stop. The freshness has gone out of it and there’s a slight air of repetitiveness about some of the elements we encounter. This is not to say another book would not be interesting. The inventiveness to bring this to fruition is outstanding. Indeed, I stand to applaud the sheer ingenuity to weave the preceding four books together to produce this plot. But any more than one to follow The Return of the Discontinued Man would probably kill the golden goose. Needless to say, you should not read this unless you have read the others. You will not have a clue what’s happening.

Once again, the jacket artwork by Jon Sullivan is magnificent.

For reviews of the first four books, 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
There are also two standalones called:
A Red Sun Also Rises
Sexton Blake and the Silent Thunder Caper.

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.

Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 1 to 5

Thursday_Theater_Keigo_Higashino_Mystery-p1

Keigo Higashino is a phenomenally successful Japanese author specialising in crime novels and short stories. The eleven episodes making up this television series of adaptations under the name, Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) are drawn from three novels “Hannin No Inai Satsujin No Yoru”, “Ayashii Hitobito” and “Ano Koro No Dareka”. All the episodes have an introductory scene set in a mystery writer’s office. The writer has been murdered. For our greater edification, the ghost of the victim offers insights into the murder scene and its evolving investigation. At the end of the episode, there’s a hook as another witness or possible suspect to the murder comes into the office. It’s an elegant procedural device to introduce each episode and set up the next.

 

“Sayonara Coach” Junichi Ishigami (Toshiaki Karasawa) is the coach for Naomi Mochizuki (Rena Tanaka) who comes tantalisingly close to winning a place in the Japanese Archery team for the Olympics. Apparently depressed by her failure, she makes a video recording of her suicide note and kills herself. The case falls to Kazuma Suzuki (Tokuma Nishioka) who finds certain inconsistencies in this scenario. He becomes even more convinced something is wrong when Yoko Ishigami (Naho Toda), the coach’s pregnant wife, is attacked. This is a darkly elegant plot. It plays on the stereotypical dispassionate nature of a coach. He or she is supposed to be able to deconstruct the technique used by the sports person and put training in place to remedy identified defects. Psychologically, the sports person must not be afraid or anxious — the bow trembling slightly in nervous hands as it is to be fired could be the difference between success and failure. Confidence and positive thinking must prevail. The coach is also ultimately selfish. The success of the sportsperson means reflected glory and the possibility of more people to coach.

Junichi Ishigami (Toshiaki Karasawa) as the coach

Junichi Ishigami (Toshiaki Karasawa) as the coach

 

It’s therefore not surprising the coach does not turn away when the anxious archer throws herself at him. She’s desperate, having lost self-confidence. By sleeping with her and making her feel good about herself, he turns her into a real contender. Although she loses in the Olympic trials, it’s by a hairsbreadth. She comes so close. Unfortunately, that’s an end of her career. At her age, she’s not going to continue training for the next four years. She must make decisions about her future. The video seems to resolve all these issues. Better still, the coach is free to continue in his loving relationship with his wife who’s pregnant. How convenient (in a dispassionate kind of way). Yet the fact we might all suspect the coach is not proof he did anything wrong. The way the story peels back the layers of the relationships is captivating with the precise mechanisms in play producing a completely appropriate outcome, although not in the way the coach might have expected.

 

The second episode is one of these pleasing stories in which a family with some level of wealth and status has been unlucky enough to produce a younger son who has limited mental ability. On the day we arrive in this household, he attacks the new young lady who was employed to help tutor him. He runs to the kitchen covered in blood and when the rest of the family examine the body, she’s pronounced dead. This is profoundly embarrassing to the family and they wish to avoid any interaction with the police. Fortunately, they also employ Takuya Sato (Kenji Sakaguchi), a young man who dropped out of university where he was studying as a medical student. When approached, he reluctantly agrees to help the older son dispose of the body. So begins the fairly standard plot and we sit back in anticipation the entire cover-up will come unstuck. And, sure enough, a man claiming to be the victim’s brother turns up at the house and has to be chased away. Then, despite burying the body deep in the woods, an unexpectedly heavy rain storm washes the soil away from the body and now the tension ratchets up as the brother goes to the police. How and why the whole plan fails is great fun as Detective Takano (Takeo Nakahara) turns up. Although there’s an early sign, the plot is constructed in such a way that the precise sequence of events only becomes apparent at the end. It’s an entirely satisfying answer and shows up the key person involved as remarkably focused on getting what he/she wants out of the situation.

Detective Juuzo Banba (Ren_Osugi)

Detective Juuzo Banba (Ren Osugi)

 

The third episode titled “Endless Night” is not so much a police procedural murder investigation as a crime story in which we’re invited to explore the state of the murder victim’s wife. Yoichi Tamura (Koutaro Tanaka) decides to go to Osaka to open a branch of his family’s business. His wife, Atsuko Tamura (Nao Matsushita) flatly refuses to accompany him. Some months later, she’s called from Tokyo to identify her husband’s body. He’s been stabbed in the shop. Detective Juuzo Banba (Ren Osugi) suspects the wife from the outset, but he’s completely baffled as to why she might have done it. He therefore spends time with her just walking round Osaka, trying to work out why she’s so uncomfortable in the city. As a window into Japanese culture, the last fifteen minutes of the episode is fascinating as the detective and wife stand on the roof of a hotel and talk without actually looking at each other. Indeed, most of the time, the detective stands behind the wife. In a sense, both reveal personal tragedies in their lives. They are not in any sense connected, but they do share a bond of sorts.

 

The fourth episode is the least successful in the series so far. We begin with Yoko Asano (Arisa Mizuki), an attorney, being interviewed after doing her best to keep the treatment of a juvenile offender as fair as is possible in the Japanese legal system. When she returns home in a downpour, she finds Reiko Yamashita (Ito Ono), a young woman, soaked to the skin in her garage. We’ve already seen a stabbing but, at this stage, it’s not clear whether this is the woman responsible. Later, the lawyer searches the garage and finds both a still wet umbrella and a bloodstained knife wrapped up in a small towel. Our lawyer is friendly with Shinichi Fujikawa (Eisaku Yoshida), a psychologist, who quickly diagnoses multiple personality disorder. This sets us off down the path well travelled to decide whether a murder committed by one personality requires a conviction of the other personalities (which may be less guilty or more innocent depending on their point of view).

Reiko Yamashita (Ito Ono)

Reiko Yamashita (Ito Ono)

 

However, the story then veers off track with a twist and more backstory. Although the twist is reasonably ingenious, it’s rather thrown away because the lawyer’s motivation is given equal, if not greater, prominence as the plot unwinds. I have no problem with the lawyer feeling more obligated to help young offenders because she herself was abused as a child. Nor that she should have the idealism to believe, given the right treatment, the good in everyone can be discovered and come to be the dominant personality trait. But this script does not handle the emergence of her abuse in a very coherent way, and the explanation for the accused murderer developing multiple personality disorder is fudged. The result is a failure to make the quickly formed relationship of trust between lawyer and client credible. The ending, subtitled “One year later” is also rather gratuitous and not particularly satisfying. I’m also less than convinced the script has this young woman in the right healthcare setting. It looks like a completely open general hospital, rather than a dedicated mental healthcare facility which would have the security in place to deal with potentially homicidal patient awaiting trial.

 

Episode 5 is one of these tragic stories where the failure of a couple to be completely honest with each other sows the seeds for a possible murder. This is not a police procedural. Indeed, the first death is almost immediately ruled accidental with the couple left to mourn the death of a child. Put simply, Nobihiko Nakagawa (Takashi Sorimachi) is working from home but is called out of the house for what should have been a five minute trip to the local convenience store to use its fax machine. Unfortunately, two men decide to rob the store and he’s collateral damage, waking up in hospital later on. Because he was not able to return home, his daughter died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Some time later, the couple go away on a holiday together but all is not well between them. The man suspects Naomi Nakagawa (Ai Kato), his second wife, of killing the daughter from the first marriage. Stepmother and child did not get on. It was souring the marriage. He thinks she used the kerosine heater to kill his daughter. On their first night in the hotel, they argue and he puts his hands around her neck. The problem actually arises because they have failed to discuss what each one did. It takes Shigeo Fujimura (Toshiyuki Kitami), another guest at the hotel, to force the husband to review what happened. That just leaves the question of whether this is all too late to prevent a second tragedy.

 

For other work based on Keigo Higashino’s writing, see:
11 Moji no Satsujin or 11文字の殺人 (2011)
Broken or The Hovering Blade or Banghwanghaneun Kalnal or 방황하는 칼날 (2014)
Bunshin or 分身 (2012)
Galileo or Garireo or ガリレオ
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 1 and 2
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 3 and 4
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 5 and 6
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 7, 8 and 9
Galileo 2 or ガリレオ (第2期) (2013) episodes 10 and 11
Galileo: The Sacrifice of Suspect X or Yôgisha X no kenshin (2008)
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 1 to 4
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 5 to 8
Naniwa Junior Detectives or Naniwa Shonen Tanteida or 浪花少年探偵団 (2012) episodes 9 to 12
Platinum Data or プラチナデータ (2013)
Thursday Theatre Keigo Higashino Mystery or 東野圭吾ミステリーズ (2012) episodes 6 to 11
White Night or Baekyahaeng or 백야행 : 하얀 어둠 속을 걷다 (2009)
The Wings of the Kirin or Kirin no Tsubasa: Gekijoban Shinzanmono or 麒麟の翼 ~劇場版・新参者~ (2012)

 

For a Galileo novel, see Salvation of a Saint.

 

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