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The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011)

December 5, 2014 1 comment

11_Moji_no_Satsujin-p2

The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 (2011) is a made-for-television film version of Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken (1991) by Keigo Higashino. The best way to describe the nature of the plot is as a classic Golden Age detective format in service of a revenge thriller. So where do we start? Eriko Kiryu (Takako Tokiwa) is seen arriving at the exclusive guest house owned by the Hara family. In the best metafictional style, she tells viewers she’s come for revenge. The family are attending for the reading of the will left by Takaaki Hara (Soichiro Kitamura).  She believes one of those attending was responsible for killing her lover, Jiro Satonaka (Kei Tanaka) and almost strangling her to death in an earlier attack at this guest house. Why, you ask, will no-one recognise her and therefore take precautionary measures against her? She was very badly burned in the fire and so has had substantial reconstructive cosmetic surgery. In fact, she’s been made to resemble a cousin of the patriarch — not someone close enough to the patriarch to be in line to inherit. Her presence will therefore not seem threatening to the principal beneficiaries. This will put her in the best position to act as an amateur detective to try to identify who killed Jiro, attacked her, and set the fire that left her disfigured.

Eriko Kiryu (Takako Tokiwa) announces she has the will

Eriko Kiryu (Takako Tokiwa) announces she has the will

 

This is a Golden Age type of problem because all the family members then at the guest house had a motive to kill Jiro and/or her. Any one of them could have entered her room either by walking along the corridor or by walking through the garden and passing through the sliding window. As Eriko Kiryu, she was only a personal secretary but became a target because she was the most trusted member of the group of people surrounding Takaaki Hara. Despite their significant age difference, some even speculated Takaaki Hara might marry her or leave her ownership of the businesses and the money simply to spite the money-grubbing family members. Eliminating her removed one of the possible threats to the family inheriting the estate. We later learn there was also a reason for killing Jiro Satonaka, but it’s not clear how many of the family would have been aware of it.

Chief inspector Yasaki (Takashi Naito)

Chief inspector Yasaki (Takashi Naito)

 

To stir things up, she announces to the family at their first evening meal that she has a copy of the will made by Eriko Kiryu. It’s strongly hinted that the will contains information that will help identify who killed Jiro Satonaka. Needless to say, the envelope supposedly containing the will is stolen from her room and the thief is later found murdered. This brings Chief inspector Yasaki (Takashi Naito) to the guest house and a race develops. Will Eriko Kiryu work out who killed Jiro and take her revenge before the Chief Inspector realises she’s a fake and takes her out of the picture? Obviously, the same set of people are present as guests on both occasions, so it’s probable the same killer is at work. Ironically, this second death also benefits all those in line for inheritance. One less to inherit means more for the survivors. Despite watching the ending twice, I remain uncertain about the mechanics of who precisely is present at the relevant earlier times. I can envisage how the first death and attempted strangling must have been done, but I’m not convinced that’s what we see. Despite this, the amateur and professional detective are impressive in their ability to see through some of the deceit. And there’s a nice irony that Eriko Kiryu is not quite as close to unmasking as she might have feared. That said, her haste to take her revenge does produce a most interesting revelation. That the official investigation might have identified the killer from the forensic evidence is left hanging in the air. So The Murder in Kairotei or Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken or 回廊亭殺人事件 is fairly impressive with a nice array of unpleasant relatives queuing up to inherit to choose from as the killer.

 

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)
Salvation of a Saint
Midsummer Formula or Manatsu no Houteishiki or 真夏の方程式 (2013)
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)

 

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Shadows of Justice by Simon Hall

Shadows of Justice by Simon Hall

Because my reading is now spread over quite a wide range of the genres, I not infrequently come into a series after a significant number of books have already been published. I bear this with fortitude. It comes with the territory of becoming a more-or-less full-time reviewer instead of being able to pick and choose what I want to read when I want to read it. So here we go with my first look at Dan Groves, better known as the TV Detective, in Shadows of Justice by Simon Hall (Thames River Press, 2013).

 

For reasons unknown to me, our reporter as hero seems very pally with Detective Inspector Adam Breen. While it’s always useful for an investigating officer to have the help of a newshound when appropriate, e.g. to manage the news on a kidnapping, it seems unlikely they would have a practical working relationship as investigators. With the real-world police under pressure for leaking secrets to the news media for cash, the fictional equivalent would be more cautious about sharing information with a television journalist. Although this relationship is entirely open and not corrupt, the officer would need to be seen to be clean and not give rise to suspicion of misconduct in public office. Indeed, this July has seen the publication of new guidelines with all British police officers now required to register the names of all “friends” who work in the media. Ironically, the same obligation applies to “friends” who have been convicted of criminal offences. Failure to disclose will be considered gross misconduct and will lead to dismissal. That said the hook of this book is the mismatched team and we’re not supposed to question whether it’s even remotely credible. Such are the whims of authors and far be it for me to be overly critical of pairing characters so they can investigate and solve fictional crimes.

Simon Hall

Simon Hall

 

Structurally, the narrative of this book is very interesting because about halfway through it pivots and takes a different route to the end. Thematically, this is not original. I’ve seen many examples of it before, but it more usually sets up in a short preface or evidence of it is collected during the investigation and reveals the motive for the murder(s). Allowing for my failing memory, I can’t remember such a dramatic moment creating the motive for the deaths in the second half. Indeed, for a while I was nursing the belief that the key people had staged their own deaths. Given the motive for the initial kidnapping was revenge both personal (the reason for signing the ransom note PP is a delight) and political, it appealed to my sense of justice that the perpetrators should seek to disappear. That would add more pain and suffering to those left behind and perfect the criminals’ revenge. Once I had disabused myself of that “absurd” notion, I more or less got the final twist but not the precise mechanism of how it was all engineered. It’s a very elegant plot and definitely scores high on my scale of whodunnitry.

 

Unfortunately, that’s an end of the praise. Reactions to writing style are always highly subjective so you can take what follows with a pinch of salt. The fact I dislike the prose as presented to me should not deter you from reading an ingenious police procedural with an amateur detective assisting. But by my standards this book is at least fifty pages too long. No opportunity is missed to pad out events to almost unreadable lengths. For example, the first chapter describing the arrival of the jury to deliver its verdict is almost completely redundant. It makes the start unnecessarily melodramatic and adds more than a thousand words where a simple sentence or two would have sufficed. When it comes to the general text, expressions must be “unreadable”, battles “wearying”, the state must be “all-knowing”, and the bureaucracy “faceless”. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against the use of flowery adjectives and illuminating descriptions, but I find this text somewhat overwrought and not a little clichéd. Yet as I indicated at the outset, this is not a first novel. Publishers are in the game to make money so Simon Hall must be popular. Word-of-mouth and general reviews must be positive. I’m therefore forced to conclude that, yet again, my taste is out of step with the general readership for this type of fiction.

 

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

 

Confession of Murder or Naega Salinbeomida or 내가 살인범이다 (2012)

April 8, 2013 1 comment

Confession of Murder

Confession of Murder or Naega Salinbeomida or 내가 살인범이다 (2012) makes a pleasingly dramatic start. It’s 2005. Our hero is drowning his sorrows in a bar when a masked man throws himself through the window to attack him. Recovering quickly from the surprise, there’s a terrific fight followed by a trademark chase in the rain. It’s always good for a director and scriptwriter Jung Byoung-Gil to make a statement of intent. No mater how cerebral this police procedural may get, there will always be a chance for fights and the occasional shooting. Anyway, our hero is left carrying a scar on his face to remind him of his run-in with a serial killer. Retreating ever further into the bottle, he views himself as an increasing failure as a detective.

Jung Jae-Young hot in pursuit

Jung Jae-Young hot in pursuit

 

This is Homicide Detective Choi Hyung-Goon (Jung Jae-Young) who, at his peak, was in charge of a major serial killer case. It was never solved. Then after the period of statutory liability has expired, Lee Doo-Suk (Park Shi Hoo) writes a book confessing to the murders. The news conference where he launches his book confessing to the murders is a nicely judged commentary on the role of the media. The author’s display of the bullet wound allegedly resulting from the shot fired by Detective Choi when they chased across roof-tops is guaranteed to grab everyone’s attention. When he starts to do the rounds of the parents of the girls he claims to have killed to show his remorse, the press follow and sales of the book are phenomenal. The question for the police, therefore, is whether the confession is real. A question that becomes all the more pressing when the author and the media come into the police station to greet the detective in charge.

 

The media, however, are anxious to get the alleged criminal and failed cop on to the same television show. If the cop kills the confessed murderer on a live show, the ratings will go through the roof. The television impresario played by Jang Gwang is magnificently capitalist. He truly understands the cult of celebrity and is out to exploit the opportunity to the maximum. There are two things going for him. The first is that the man making the confession is not only inherently newsworthy, he’s also rather beautiful. Vast numbers of women and teen girls are swooning over his good looks. Indeed, when the detective accuses him of being a fraud, we see the young girls outraged. They want their new hero to be the serial killer who used to go round killing young girls. The satire is moderately savage, charting the mindless irrationality of the cult that rapidly grows up around this admitted killer and the exploitation of this cult by the mainstream media to make millions of dollars profit.

Park Shi Hoo beginning to find life a little tough

Park Shi Hoo beginning to find life a little tough

 

Meanwhile, led by Han Ji-Soo (Kim Young-Ae), the mother of the last girl whose body was never found, the relatives plan their own quiet revenge. Except the manner of the kidnapping wins prizes for being one of the most amusing I’ve seen in years. It’s a complete masterpiece showing how amateur criminals are accident-prone when it comes to executing a plan and it’s worth seeing the film just for that sequence. The most dangerous of this group proves to be Choi Kang-Sook (Jo Eun-Ji). Her efforts with the crossbow prove highly effective. Mention must also be made of Jung Hae-Kyun who gives a performance of great physicality. He has terrific screen presence.

 

Taken overall, we have a wonderful film. Indeed, it’s one of the best of 2012. Although I think it rather obvious what’s going on, the mechanics of the plot are worked out with rigorous attention to detail. Absolutely everything you see has a purpose and builds up to a most satisfying emotional outcome in the epilogue. Park Shi Hoo smiles most convincingly as the man making the confession. That he manages to come over as sympathetic even when admitting to multiple murders is a significant triumph. Jung Jae-Young is also impressive as the detective slowly falling to pieces — a fall made all the more terrible when the flashbacks explain his personal history. Although revenge films can sometimes leave a sour taste in the mouth as you feel vigilanteism is being condoned by film-makers, this plays absolutely fair with everyone, both individual and state officials, operating within the law and upholding its principles. Indeed, one character goes above and beyond the ordinary call of duty to ensure the law is not broken (too much). Confession of Murder or Naega Salinbeomida or 내가 살인범이다 is a film you should go out of your way to see.

 

For those of you who are fans of Park Shi Hoo, there’s a fan site at http://parksihoo4u.com/

 

Dead Anyway by Chris Knopf

July 22, 2012 1 comment

I suppose, as one character said in a recent film, there’s really only ever been one plot that just gets endlessly recycled. The authors change the names and locations, and then get on with the craft of retelling. Without straining a muscle in my brain, I think it starts with “Shit happens!” and then we spend the rest of the plot finding out how everyone reacts. Some live. Some die. Some are lucky get laid before they die. Some get laid after they die — I suppose that makes it unlucky for the surviving relatives to discover the body of their loved one has been desecrated or lucky for the dead one because he or she discovers heaven is real and full of available partners. No matter how the sex thing works out, that pretty much sums up Dead Anyway by Chris Knopf (Permanent Press, 2012) and a pretty damn fine plot it turns out to be. Or, to put it another way, even though the plot may not be the most original on the planet, some authors can take it and turn out a really great book.

So here comes a little of the fine detail. Imagine a routine day. Your wife is getting herself up and dressed, ready to go off to work at the insurance agency she has built up into an impressive business. You are lounging around before making a start on your own work. You’re a somewhat obsessive, computer person who finds things out through your research skills. You go out for a walk. When you get back to the house you discover your wife’s car outside. Inside the house, you find a man with a gun. He asks your wife to write down the answers to five questions. She does so. Then the man shoots both of you in the head.

Chris Knopf wearing an obvious disguise so he can disappear

Much to your surprise, you wake up in hospital. The bullet passed through the brain and out through the skull. It did some damage but not enough to kill you. Fortunately, your sister is a doctor and continues the fiction you’re in a coma. In private, you start to exercise both physically and mentally. More importantly, you start to plan. This was obviously a professional hit. Since you had done nothing to justify this level of retaliation, it had to be something connected to your wife. Since you can identify the hitman, the choices are simple and limited. You could simply plead memory loss and hope no-one notices you survived. You could help the police and then go into witness protection. Or you could fake your own death and think about whether it would be possible to take revenge.

OK, so you reason that if you were dead anyway, no-one would be looking for you and you could quietly research who might have ordered the hit. Being a doctor, your sister therefore fakes your death and you disappear into uncharted waters. Over the rest of the book, you make some interesting acquaintances and one possible long-term friend. You also get laid without having to die for real which is a bonus. There are some enemies, of course, including one retired FBI operative who’s vowing to track you down but, on balance, it looks as though a man with your skills can not only survive but also prosper while flying under the radar.

Dead Anyway is one of these deceptively simple thrillers which zips along like it’s on fire and, before you realise it, you’ve reached the end and are gasping for more of the same. It’s obviously set up for a sequel. I’m already sold on buying it. Don’t miss out. While the impulse for revenge gives us some of the oldest plot themes in the world, this reads as fresh as if Chris Knopf just invented it.

For reviews of other books by Chris Knopf, see:
A Billion Ways to Die
Cries of the Lost
Ice Cap.

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

For the record, this won the 2013 Nero Award.

Voices of the Dead by Peter Leonard

February 7, 2012 2 comments

When you start off any review, it’s as well to talk about the elephant in the room first. This clears the air. Not that elephants regularly pollute the atmosphere with foul gasses, you understand, but we need to keep a proper sense of proportion so we can see past the beast to the “real” issues. Voices of the Dead (The Story Plant, 2012) begins with an introduction from the father about his son. This is Peter Leonard‘s fourth novel. His father, Elmore Leonard, has been writing for slightly longer and has managed to build up quite a name for himself. I think he’s published forty-nine novels — I always have trouble counting over ten when I run out of fingers — and has written screenplays for both cinema and television. So here comes a simple truth. Peter is not his father. On the evidence of this book, he’s a talented writer on the merits. Perhaps more importantly, he’s neither ashamed nor intimidated by admitting the relationship. This distinguishes writers like Joe Hill who start off their careers without broadcasting the identities of their more famous parents.

The book begins in what feels a conventional way but, after a few more pages it becomes obvious this not a book like any written by Elmore. It’s altogether darker with sensibilities that would not sit comfortably in a genre western or suspense-oriented thriller. In dealing with the Holocaust, an issue in history that tends to raise emotions, Peter Leonard is taking a risk. Our protagonist is called Harry Levin. He’s a survivor, but not because he was strong. At the age of thirteen, he was left for dead, buried in a mass grave. The action starts in 1971. This keeps the ages of those involved credible for the decisions on flight or fight. The catalyst is the death of Harry’s daughter in a traffic accident. The driver was hopelessly drunk but has diplomatic immunity, which triggers Harry’s desire for revenge. Except the moral nature of this desire changes when the identities of those involved are revealed.

In theory, the passage of time gives us a better perspective on the events of the past. When an author has no direct experience to draw on, he must imagine how it felt to be a survivor. It should provide a way of presenting the trauma in a more objective way. So Peter Leonard gives us a fairly straight description of how Harry escaped death and subsequently left Germany. There’s little commentary and the emotional content is kept to a minimum. Nevertheless, the modern reader comes with a complex set of emotional responses to the Holocaust. Today, there’s more silence on the subject, yet this lack of voices can be as loud as speaking when we consider the status of Jews in societies around the world and view the difficulties faced by Israel. In the period immediately after WWII, the discourse was full of condemnation and the politics of revenge. Some believe the establishment of the state of Israel was, in itself, an act of revenge against the state of Germany. The din death squads were active until 1960 and the trial of war criminals has continued into this century, most recently in 2009 with the case of Heinrich Boere, a former SS member charged with three murders.

Peter Leonard turns his back on books

Thematically, we are in the same territory as The Iron Tracks by Aharon Appelfeld in which Erwin Siegelbaum murders the camp commandant, Colonel Nachtigel, who killed his parents. This brings him no peace of mind. Murder is hardly the most noble of human actions and it’s rarely rewarded with salvation when the motive is revenge. Ironically, it may be easier to kill a man if you see him as a monster, but this process to dehumanise an individual Nazi is what the Nazis did on a national scale to Jews as a justification for their extermination. In a way, this captures the problem for Peter Leonard. If Voices of the Dead had been written in the 1970s, it would have been sufficient that the son was resuming his acquaintance with the man who killed his father. As it is, even though he’s set the story in the past, the modern reader might not approve revenge based purely on what happened during the war. To us, this is old history. Peter Leonard therefore makes his unrepentant Nazi continue life as a serial killer (and a drunk driver), i.e. if anything he’s become even more monstrous with the passage of time. There’s then a further change to defuse the scale of the moral decisions Harry must take on his journey. His initial attempt to kill is frustrated. This produces what we may term a cooling-off period. There’s a chance for all interested parties to reflect and pull back from the precipice. What happens after this is slightly more mainstream.

I have a slight problem with the characterisation of Harry. The German language is inevitably linked to the experiences of his childhood. It’s also the language of those who took the family to the camps and murdered his father. This should taint the language in the ears of the child, raising an emotional question mark over its use. Coming to America, Harry solves the problem by learning a new language in which he can distance himself from his memories. Over time, the fear and anger subsides, and he remembers the happier moments with his parents before the war and, less frequently, immediately before the family is taken. Yet in 1971, he seems able to drop back into German without hesitation. Further, although there are minor resonances when he actually returns to Germany and visits the scenes of his past, there’s little sense of any underlying trauma. In this, I think the novel somewhat pulls its punches.

Overall, the choice of the Holocaust as the main theme may mean some readers will be deterred from reading it. This would be a shame because Voices of the Dead is beautifully written and relatively dispassionate in its handling of difficult issues. It may not deal with the complexity of the moral issues but, in its silences, it does speak powerfully about the past and how we should react to it.

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

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