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

Zettai_Reido

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

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

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

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

Shintaro Shiraishi (Takeo Nakahara)

Shintaro Shiraishi (Takeo Nakahara)

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

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

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

Zettai_Reido

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

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

Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji)

Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji)

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

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

Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto)

Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto)

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

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

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

Zettai_Reido

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

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

Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama)

Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama)

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

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

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

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

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

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs

August 21, 2014 3 comments

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs

Bones Never Lie by Kathy Reichs (Bantam, 2014) is the seventeenth to feature Temperance Brennan. This begins with our hero called into the Cold Case Unit at the Law Enforcement Centre in Charlotte, N.C. The meeting has been triggered by a Vermont detective called Umparo Rodas who has linked one of his cases to others involving Anique Pomperleau. This is a woman who has kidnapped, tortured, and killed young girls. She managed to elude Brennan and the then lead detective, Andrew Ryan, in Monday Mourning (2004). This return to the Pomperleau case is professionally and personally embarrassing to our hero because, having worked with Andrew Ryan in Montreal, they had become occasional lovers. After the death of his teenage daughter from a drug overdose, he has dropped completely out of sight. So Temperance’s first job is to track him down and persuade him to return to civilisation and the investigation of crime. She’s not entirely sure where to start looking but Brennan’s mother, Daisy, turns out to be not only skilled with computers, but also intensely manipulative and potentially dying of cancer. She comes up with a vital piece of information as to where he might be hiding and, courtesy of a flight south of the border, the full cold case team is in play. Meanwhile Erskine “Skinny” Slidell is dealing with a new kidnapping and, of course, the resulting dead body may be tied into the serial killer’s growing list of victims. Once Ryan is back up to speed, they do what they can locally and then fly up to Canada to see if anyone remembers anything that might help then find Pomperleau before she kills again. We then come to one of these very ingenious clues that takes them down to Vermont. I read books for clues like this. They are unlikely ever to work in the real world but, on paper, you are just left with admiration for the author in having created it.

Kathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs

This is a particularly pleasing book in which our hero follows the trail of breadcrumbs using the tools of her trade. Whereas other fictional detectives rely on others to do the forensic work and then apply their own idiosyncratic intelligence to determine whodunnit, Brennan comes as the complete package. She has the knowledge and skills to look at the bones, observe an autopsy, and ask pertinent questions. Yes, she’s less than tactful in this book and shows less patience than usual. We can put that down to the combination of her mother’s “condition”, the reappearance of Ryan, and the general sense of disgust all feel when dealing with cases involving children and young adults. The result is a simple story of medical detective work, told in uncluttered prose which zips us along to the necessary melodramatic confrontation, followed by the debriefing explanations and an epilogue. It’s a very professionally put-together murder mystery involving a serial killer.

This is not to say the book is without flaws. For example, there’s no reason for Brennan’s mother to turn out to be so impressive. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve met the mother (her father has been dead a long time). I can understand why Kathy Reichs might want to introduce the character. It gives more depth to the general understanding of Brennan. But it would have been sufficient for the plot to stop at the psychological condition and cancer. Police forces can sometimes be allowed to shine when serial killers are threatening local children. I also thought the shooting of one individual was unnecessary. Yes, it does explain why no-one among the usual crew is answering their phone at the critical time, but I’m not convinced it fits comfortably into the Slidell character arc. So, overall, Bones Never Lie is a very good story with lots of interesting medical matters demystified. On balance, I think the flaws relatively minor, leaving this book on my recommended list.

For reviews of other books by Kathy Reichs, see:
The Bones of the Lost
Flash and Bones.

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

Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 3 and 4

Zettai_Reido

Episode 3 of Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) takes us back to 2002 with the fourth killing of a woman with long dark hair by the so-called God of Death. Come forward eight years and a new body is discovered that may be connected to the previous four. Initially, the police have a suspect. A man was seen running away from the place where the body was found and it seems he was stalking the victim. However, when the cold case unit compare the cases, the latest body doesn’t quite fit the signature, but the knot used to tie the victim is the same and the first body was found on the same day in April eight years ago. Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama) and Ryoko Takamine (Sayaka Yamaguchi) were both part of the team that worked on the original case although they did not meet at that time. Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto) and Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako) meet with the father of one of the earlier victims. His marriage has now broken down because he blamed his wife for not responding to their daughter’s request for a lift from the railway station. If mother and daughter had met, she would probably have survived. When the unit contacts the team responsible for the current murder investigation, there’s an immediate jurisdictional turf war and the old wounds from eight years ago come back for Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto) who lost a competition for a senior post to the man currently in charge. Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji) does his best to keep the peace between the warring units. Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura) are going over the old forensic evidence and find grains of sand on the rope under in the four cases. Sand is also found at the scene of the new killing which suggests they may be chasing the wrong man.

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto)

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto)

The case-note evidence from the initial investigation shows the first victim left home after an argument about whether she should marry. A few days later, she was dead. Izumi Sakuragi walks the ground after the victim attended a planning session for their wedding. She also walks the ground after another victim attended a gallery showing and discovers the victims were likely to have ended up at the same park. Checking back through the camera of that victim shows photographs she took in this place. By a somewhat ingenious route, this leads to the killer. What makes the episode interesting that the the families of the initial four victims come to the office of the cold case unit to thank them for listening and eventually capturing the killer.

Naoya Shimizu

Naoya Shimizu

Episode 4 takes us back to 1999, where a group of four school kids, members of the astronomy club, are both celebrating and fearing the end of the world in one of the many ways predicted by Nostradamus. In 2010, someone sends a skeleton to the cold case unit. It’s a man who has been dead eleven years with head wounds suggesting murder. The dental records give an identity as a science teacher, aged forty-one. Because it was only a missing person’s case, there’s little or no evidence to start off the contemporary investigation. That sends the team out to find the astronomy club members who were apparently the last people to see their teacher alive. It turns out one of these four sent the skeleton but, one hour before the police can get to him for an interview, he “falls” from the fire escape at his apartment block and it’s 50/50 whether he will recover from the coma. So the big question is why this group of four, who were such great friends in middle school, should now appear to be so distant. Hideo Nagashima and Izumi Sakuragi discuss what happens to friendships when people leave school. She admits to having lost touch with all her friends since she became a detective. Her focus is on matters of immediate interest. Is that what happened to this group of four? That they all separated to do their own thing and never saw each other again?

The dynamic of the plot is one of the tried-and-tested ideas but the precise way in which this works out does show a slight variation on the theme. The meeting between Izumi Sakuragi and the woman played by Naoya Shimizu at the end is a wonderful moment in complete contrast to the rest of the series so far. Up to this point, the general feeling of the series has been of the cold case team arriving at a situation in which justice is seen to be done. It’s not that they bask in self-congratulation that they have done a good job, but there’s a sense they have justified the existence of the unit as a means of resetting the emotional clock on past crimes. That’s definitely not what happens here. Indeed, in many ways, there’s a whole new clock now ticking as a result of this investigation. It’s good to see the scriptwriters producing balance in outcomes.

For a review of other episodes, see:
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 1 and 2
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 5 and 6
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 7 to 9
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 10 and 11.

Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 1 and 2

Zettai_Reido

Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) is a Japanese version of the American series of Cold Case where Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto), a young female investigator, is part of a unit called in to review cases which happened many years ago. In the first episode, we start off on New Year’s Eve, 1999 with a woman coming late to a bar to celebrate the midnight hour with two colleagues from work. We then see her being shot. Switching forward to 2010, Izumi Sakuragi has spent the night in the office going over dead files for fun. She’s been in the unit for three months, but her seniors don’t allow her to do anything other than observe and take notes. We then get a quick introduction to the rest of the team: Ryoko Takamine (Sayaka Yamaguchi) is an older and more experienced female officer, Keigo Tsukamoto (Hiroyuki Miyasako) and Yuki Fukazawa (Tomomi Maruyama) are relatively experienced young officers, Shintaro Shiraishi (Takeo Nakahara) is the older man with a good memory for facts who was passed over for promotion as team leader. This role went to his then junior, Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto) which produces some strain in the relationship. The overall boss of the unit is Hideo Nagashima (Kinya Kitaoji). In the forensic science department, we have Sae Omori (Hiromi Kitagawa) and Sho Takebayashi (Ryo Kimura). When the decomposed body from the first case of the Millennium is unearthed, it falls to the team to take over the investigation. The original killing was tied into a large embezzlement case. The case is presented as if the three girls were responsible and disappeared with the money, but the boyfriend of the dead girl is now a suspect because, not so long after the New Year, he received sufficient money to pay off his debts and start a new business. It looks like he was in on the theft or was paid off by one of the three women. The branch manager of the bank where they worked is also probably hiding something.

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto)

Izumi Sakuragi (Aya Ueto)

Thematically, we’re in conventional territory where the two younger men in the unit disparage both the rookie and the well-established woman who had a failure as a profiler. Needless to say, both women are perceptive and ignoring their views slows down the investigation. Hideo Nagashima is mentoring the rookie, giving her puzzles to solve and advice based on baseball. Ryoko Takamine gives Izumi Sakuragi her first chance to conduct an interview. It’s the mother of one of the three girls who went missing. It’s revealing because the police treated her missing daughter as guilty when they investigated ten years earlier, so coming back ten years later finds a rather bitter woman who’s had to live with the accusation unresolved all this time. This gives Izumi Sakuragi and Hideo Nagashima the chance to consider the real purpose of the cold case unit. Ostensibly, it may just be detectives reopening an old case, but if they solve it, there can be closure for those who have been left hanging over the years. So this is not just about justice for the victims, it’s also about giving those left behind the chance to move on. Although the initial set-up is something of a cliché, this episode has an emotional heart and does offer a quite interesting overview of police procedure.

Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto)

Takumi Kurata (Tetta Sugimoto)

Back in 1995, just about the time of the Sarin gas attack, a young woman who was a medical student, is brought into the A&E Department with stab wounds from which she dies. Because police resources were focused on the terrorist attack, the investigation into this murder was limited. Now we come forward to 2010 and some local government officials are clearing out the house of an old bag-woman when they find a blood-stained knife. It’s wrapped in an American newspaper and there’s the pollen of both a red and yellow rose on it. The analysis of the blood reopens the case. At the time, the boyfriend was suspected, but there was no untainted evidence to show he’d done it. He had messed up the crime scene. His girlfriend was dying so he moved everything and picked her up to get her to the hospital. With the fifteen year statute of limitations about to expire, there’s only a week left to solve the case. The ex-boyfriend is now married to one of the nurses at the hospital and runs a flower shop. They sell flowers wrapped in English newspapers.

Also of interest is a man who’s now a famous surgeon. Naturally he’s refusing all co-operation in the reopened case although he later relents and hands over the case notes from the patients being treated at the time. Another man who worked at the hospital says the original investigation stalled because no-one wanted to damage the reputation of the hospital by passing on stories potentially damaging to the hospital’s reputation. Indeed, it appears the murder victim may have suspected an incident of medical malpractice and been silenced before she could make trouble. The victim and her boyfriend were a mismatched couple. She was a resident and likely to become a top doctor. He was working in a flower shop. But he could make her smile when she was sad. In fact she was often quite sad because her attention to detail made her very unpopular with the nurses. Taking the case in context, Izumi Sakuragi worries the investigation may destroy the current marriage between the suspected ex-boyfriend and his wife. She has to make up her mind how far to push the case. In the end, she concludes she can’t forgive the murderer no matter how many people may be hurt. In this case, her method for working out what happened is nicely judged as a piece of fiction — I doubt it would work in the real world. And she ends up making some friends among an unexpected group of people. It’s all part of her learning curve. Put all this together and this is an auspicious pair of episodes with which to open the series.

For a review of other episodes, see:
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 3 and 4
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 5 and 6
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 7 to 9
Absolute Zero – Special Investigation Unit or Zettai Reido – Mikaiketsu Jiken Tokumei Sousa or 絶対零度~未解決事件 (2010) Episodes 10 and 11.

The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb by David Handler

The Cold Black Asphalt Tomb by David Handler

I’m starting off this review with thoughts about the relationship between historical fiction and the emerging subgenre which I’ll call Cold Case although, since the idea actually comes from Roy Vickers seminal collection, Department of Dead Ends (1949), we should perhaps find a better label. Anyway, the structure of this group of books has a contemporary detective investigate events which took place in the past. Vickers has a series detective called Rason who looks through old files until he finds something interesting. As in “The Man WHo Murdered in Public” where he puts together reports of deaths by drowning which my have a common denominator. The American television series Cold Case has Lilly Rush (Kathryn Morris) solve a murder a week which, after 156 episodes, grew somewhat monotonous. However, the essential question remains of how best to classify the format. Although we’re looking at older witnesses and suspects now, the primary focus is what happened way back when. We therefore get the best of both worlds by having events from the past acting as a catalyst for contemporary events (or maybe the other way round).

The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb by David Handler (Minotaur Books, 2014) is the tenth in the series featuring ex-film critic Mitch Berger from New York City and Connecticut State Resident Trooper Desiree Mitry. They currently cohabit in the small village of Dorset where he does various odd jobs while she keeps the peace. After many past attempts failed, the election of a new selectwoman brings the men and equipment to resurface the street through the Historical District. As they begin stripping off the old asphalt, they expose a body. It has been there forty-seven years. You can’t get a colder case than this and still have enough living suspects walking around.

David Handler

David Handler

The body belongs to a Navy flier called Lance Paffin whose younger brother has been the selectman opposing all attempts to resurface the road — if he did not know the body was buried there, why has he so adamantly opposed resurfacing? Among the other suspects are the elderly owner of the local newspaper, a US Congressman and a number of local women who, for these purposes, have the misfortune to live longer than men. They were all part of a group of bright young things who met at a party in the local hall in 1967. There was an argument which might have been about politics or about the shameless way Lance related to the female sex. The official records from the time showed everyone going home after the party apart from Lance who went out for a midnight sail in his boat. Later the boat was found on the shore. Lance’s body was never recovered and he was presumed dead. Given the body ended up buried outside the hall, there’s obviously been a major cover-up in place all these years. The questions we have to wrestle with are who might have been the killer and how many of the others conspired to conceal it.

Mitch is one of the conversationalists who disarms those he talks with. Once he gets stuck into the local gossip mill, the stories of the past come thick and fast. In fact, he’s almost too good at collecting different stories. Getting them all the fit together is a challenge. Meanwhile Desiree is caught up in a difficult political situation. The US Senator was obviously in on the cover-up because he gave a job to one of the detectives from the original investigation. This raises the stakes for the police department. If corrupt police officers botched the original investigation and a contemporary US Senator is involved, the media interest could be very damaging to reputations. Desiree is therefore under pressure to come up with quick answers to deflect blame.

One aspect of the plot is nicely obscure although it may be fairly obvious who must have been the killer. Whether this spoils your enjoyment really depends on why you read books like this. Those who switch off their brains and just enjoy the ride will find this book a delight. Some of the character we meet are fascinating and given enough space so we can watch their development from smooth purveyors of the cover story to embarrassed old folk shifting from foot to foot like naughty children caught out in a lie. Should you want to second-guess the series characters so you can claim bragging rights for having solved the case before they did, this book is also for you. It’s not that difficult to identify whodunnit. The uncertainty is more as to motive and opportunity. Going back to my opening salvo, this is more a contemporary mystery than historical fiction. Although the characters talk about their lives forty-seven years ago, it’s all seen through today’s lens. Some might see this as a cozy mystery in that we have a pair in a romantic relationship investigating crimes together in a small town. This just goes to show that once you start trying to attribute labels, it grows rather annoying. So let’s conclude with the good news that The Coal Black Asphalt Tomb is a distinctly above average murder mystery with minimal police procedure thrown in to add political realism.

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

The Innocence Game by Michael Harvey

August 16, 2013 2 comments

The Innocence Game by Michael Harvey

The Innocence Game by Michael Harvey (Knopf, 2013) is a somewhat overwrought thriller which pitches a simple idea into lofty literary territory but misses its target. Let’s start with the idea. America actually had a period of civilised behaviour between 1972 and 1976 when the practice of capital punishment was suspended. Unfortunately, the country reverted to barbarism in 1976 when the Supreme Court decided it was morally acceptable for states to kill people. From 1976 to 2011, 1,264 people have been executed with Texas being the least merciful, terminating 474 people. As of 2012, California has the most people on death row. Some 721 people are backed-up in the system because the state has had a moratorium on executions in place since 2006. As a percentage of population, more black men are executed than any other race — on the gender front, only twelve women have been executed since 1976. Against this background, it’s not surprising that some lawyers and groups of concerned citizens should have begun to champion the causes of many who are on death row. Some campaign simply on the ground that capital punishment is inherently immoral. Others reinvestigate the crimes alleged to have been committed, seeking evidence of innocence that would justify reopening the cases. For example, the Innocence Project seeks to exonerate wrongly convicted people through the use of DNA evidence. So far it has secured the release of 311 people now acknowledged wrongly convicted.

This book features three top journalism students who are enrolled on a special summer elective run by Professor Judy Zombrowski, a Pulitzer Prize winner who teaches at the Medhill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago. Our three students are Ian Joyce who’s the first-person narrator but may not be entirely reliable, Jake Havens who’s one of these prickly brainy people, and Sarah Gold who may just be along as the young woman for both young men to covet. The professor who would prefer to be addressed as Z has a number of cases short-listed for the trio to investigate, but Jake hijacks the seminar group by introducing a case of his own. Apparently someone has claimed to be the killer in a cold case and offered evidence which may prove liability. Unfortunately, the case falls outside Z’s parameters for acceptance because the accused is dead. Not surprisingly, our trio make this case the cornerstone of their research effort.

Michael Harvey

Michael Harvey

As a result of their efforts, they soon believe they have uncovered evidence of similar cases but local law enforcement officers indicate they prefer the cases not be reopened. More suggestively, evidence goes missing from the supposedly secure store. We also have a stalker who follows our trio around and watches whether they are going to be able to identify him. So what we have in essence is three amateur detectives let lose on a cold case. They are too old for this to be considered a young adult reinvention of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, but there’s a slightly similarity in their initially naive approach to the task. Indeed, at first, it’s all too easy. Within a few minutes of scouting around a new crime in a wooded area, our team has found the body of the young boy who has gone missing. So Chicago’s finest came, presumably leaving their tracker dogs behind, and walked the ground. But it never occurred to them to try looking in a nearby cave. Similarly these wunderkind are almost immediately able to identify a witness who can demolish the prosecution case on the jeans allegedly worn by the killer. Naturally, the police are never interested in exculpatory evidence. It’s this type of idiocy that spoils the book. Young investigators do with ease what the best in the police force find impossible because said police are incompetent or corrupt.

Worse is the tone of the book. It’s written in a slightly minimalist style, often with short chapters, but it’s obviously attempting to ape a Raymond Chandler style of cleverness. Sadly, Michael Harvey does not have the literary skill to write a Marlowe book with three protagonists. What we get are jarring notes when phrases obviously intended to be read as intelligently flip (sorry, that’s a faint tautology) turn out to be excruciatingly shallow. Like, “The pile of hair parted itself, revealing a considerable length of nose and eyes of violent blue.” “He had thick shoulders and a long jaw covered by a blond scruff of beard.” or “His voice was ragged, like a car knocking through its low end of gears.”

It would be good to find an author who shines when he writes about his own area of expertise. He’s a law graduate and now a journalist. He’s more than familiar with the Medhill Innocence Project. He has everything going for him to write an engrossing book about uncovering evidence to exonerate those convicted of serious offences, particularly when the death penalty is in play. Unfortunately, this effort proves rather facile and uninvolving. The plot is, to put it mildly, clunky and depends on too many easy results and unscientific assumptions. If a book is to some extent going to turn on forensic evidence, the least the author should do is get the science right. Taken as a whole, the plot is quite convoluted and, at times, difficult to follow. The characterisation leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t say I was interested in any of the three. As to the prose. . . let’s just say it rubbed me up the wrong way and pass on to the sad conclusion that I really don’t think The Innocence Game is very good. In better hands, a plot following on from these ideas exploring the problems with the death penalty could be good. This is not really worth reading.

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

The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill

February 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Well, here we go down the rabbit hole of genres yet again. This time, I’m going to spend a moment thinking about the nature of a literary novel. If I wanted to be dismissive, I would say it’s one of those pretentious books that publishers tout for the Man Booker Prize or some equally prestigious award. The marketers then proclaim the winners, and those shortlisted, as the “finest” novels of the year. This is the same usage as in “fine dining”, i.e. it has a certain class-based exclusivity of access, whether by price or taste or both. In the case of literature, it implies a more complex use of language in pursuit of more heavyweight content, supposedly of interest only to the more intellectual. As in more mundane books, protagonists set out in the fictional world and we see how well they fare when facing various challenges — the plots of all novels involve stuff happening to the characters — but the literary approach tends to be more oblique. Instead of aliens bounding out of flying saucers and blasting away at the White House, we’re invited to experience situations through the minds of the characters. We have to invest a little more effort to infer what’s happening and why the characters are motivated to act (or fail to act) in the way described. Instead of the author indulging in superficial narrative, there’s a deeper emotional complexity to resolve. When done well, these books are a delight to read. There may not appear to be much “action” but, rather like the stately swan moving gracefully up the river, we must look beneath the surface to see the webbed feet paddling furiously against the currents.

Which brings me to The Betrayal of Trust by Susan Hill (Overlook Press, 2011) which is a “literary detective” novel. We’re back in Lafferton, a fictitious Cathedral city, for the sixth outing with Simon Serrailler who’s now risen to the rank of Chief Superintendent. When flood waters subside, we have bones. After further prodding around, there are two bodies. One is immediately identified as Harriet Lowther, a school girl who disappeared sixteen years ago (the same thematic territory we explored in The Pure in Heart and The Risk of Darkness). This time, the problem is how to mount an effective investigation of a cold case with very limited resources. The core of the book as a mystery to be unravelled is genuinely pleasing as we watch Simon Serrailler follow the hints in the old files and reinterview those witnesses who are still alive. The success of this element in the book is, in no small way, due to the effort invested in making the character of Harriet Lowther feel more real. Too often authors pay little attention to the victims of crimes. They are simply there as triggers for the investigation with only so much background as is needed to supply motive. The clues for solving Harriet’s murder prove to be in this character study. Only when you understand what kind of girl she was and how she might react in different situations can you see what might have happened. Except, how do you prove it? All this is handled in a very elegant way and the actual unmasking of the killer(s) is satisfying, particularly as the second body is eventually identified and the link between the two deaths shown.

Susan Hill in a new photographic technique showing her aura

If this had been the book, I would have been critical of only one facet: that the ending is somewhat perfunctory. I think it would have been far more interesting to continue the story and examine how Harriet’s father and the others involved react to the identification of the killer(s). As it is, Susan Hill decided to create a series of parallel subplots whose only justification is as an exploration of the morality and, marginally, the legality of how we should deal with the terminally ill. Now, let’s be clear. There’s nothing wrong with an author writing fiction as a vehicle for setting out the arguments on contemporary issues of public importance. As a result of the legal action begun by Debbie Purdy in 2008, the DPP was ordered to clarify the guidelines applied to decide whether those assisting the terminally ill to commit suicide would be prosecuted. For the record, it’s an offence under the Suicide Act 1961 for anyone to attempt suicide, or to assist others in a successful suicide.

Susan Hill goes for overkill (pun intended) on this issue. Almost every character in this novel is ill or involved with those who are ill and might wish to die with dignity. Simon Serrailler confirms he has long known that his father gave his mother a lethal injection and one of his sister’s patients, Jocelyn Forbes, is diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease and, in due course, takes off for Switzerland with her barrister daughter in tow. More generally, Simon’s sister, Dr Cat Deerbon, is devoting her time to the local hospice and Molly, his niece is taking a break before her final exams to qualify as a doctor, shadowing her mother and another local doctor in their care of the elderly and demented. In a non-family thread, Lenny Wilcox moves her demented partner Olive into the new local care home where Molly is spending some of her time. Even Simon Serrailler’s new love interest is locked into a marriage with a man suffering Parkinson’s.

All these different threads could have been been used to begin a rounded exploration of the legal and moral issues surrounding the way we organise the care for the elderly and the law as applied to assisted suicide. Instead, we have a random mishmash of elements mentioned, but not really discussed. As two examples, we have a woman who offers to go to Switzerland with Jocelyn if paid £5,000. When her barrister daughter eventually goes with her mother, you would think she might mention the theoretical risk of prosecution when her mother returns to England — her mother is sufficiently proximate to death to be charged with attempted suicide if sufficient evidence was available. But, apart from describing events, there’s little commentary. The result is highly simplistic coverage. It’s all moral posturing without any attempt made to analyse the issues and reach even halfway rational conclusions. To say this is disappointing is an understatement. Frankly, it gives a whole new way of viewing the title. It’s a betrayal of the trust there should be between author and reader.

All of which should tell you I was depressed by half this book. If only Susan Hill had thrown out all this half-baked morality and just focused on the crimes and what happened after the killer(s) was/were identified, we would all have been cheering to the rafters. This is not to deny the quality of the writing. As we’ve come to expect, every page is a joy to read as prose describing a city in which an increasing number of people are ageing. The issues of how to pay for and manage the care of the elderly and dying will become more prominent as the decades go by, so thoughtful contributions to the debate are always welcome. In that respect, The Betrayal of Trust should only be attempted by those who want to feel their prejudices on hospice care and assisted suicide confirmed. As a reminder, the investigation of the cold case is a gem to be treasured.

For reviews of others book by Susan Hill, see:
A Question of Identity
The Small Hand and Dolly.

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

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