Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Tattoo Murder Case

“The Tattoo Murder Case” by Akimitsu Takagi. This was originally published in Japan in 1948, but translated to English by Deborah Boliver Boehm in 1998 and reprinted. It’s the summer of 1947 and Japan is recovering from WWII. American Occupation is evident, as the people struggle to rebuild their lives after the horrible war. Black market and crime is rampant, and among the backstreets prostitution and illegal tattoo studios are rampant. Although outlawed, tattoos are a big business in Japan, and considered an art. Some people believe having their whole bodies tattooed actually heightens sexual desire. The Edo Tattoo Society even holds competitions for the best body tattoo.
            The story introduces the reader to Kenzo Metsushita, the younger brother of Detective Chief Inspector Deiyu Metsushita (also called Matsu the Demon and the Locomotive for his bull-dog persistence into criminal investigations). Kenzo, now back from the war, has returned to university where he picks up his medical studies in hopes of becoming a police forensic investigator. He wants to study the art of tattoos, thinking it will help him in future investigations, as the criminal element use tattoos as a mark of identity. Attending the Edo Tattoo Society contest he meets a beautiful woman named Kinue Nomura, the mistress of black market and businessman, Takezo Mogami, the older brother of an old friend Kenzo knew in college before the war. The younger brother, Hisashi Mogami, introduces Kenzo to Kinue and a brief affair begins. Very brief, because Kinua Nomura is found murdered in her home a few days later in a locked room. Actually, just her head and lower extremities of arms and legs are found. Her torso containing the full tattoo is missing.
            Kenzo wants to help his brother, Matsu the Demon work the murder case, but he becomes a mere foil in the investigation, as if someone is using him to further confuse the police investigation. There are four main suspects: Takezo Mogami, Hisashi Mogami, Sensei Heighiro Hayakawa (a professor of Tattoos for the university), plus a minor gangster who was once the lover of Kinue. In truth, the police have not even solved the locked room mystery after several months. Kamizu Kamizu, a late-comer to the case, was known as the Boy Genius before the war, and even now is a medical and mathematics genius, among other subjects. Plus, he speaks about seven languages. Now back from the war also, Kenzo explains the case to him and the boy genius says he can solve the murder within a week.
            Kyosuka Kamizu was the hero of the story, even though he doesn’t appear until half way into the book. He takes over the case and quickly brings it to a close, explaining everything to the stumped investigators, and was really a Japanese version of Sherlock Holmes. The story was well written, although the phraseology was more modern than 1947, which I’m sure was the work of the translator. We do get a feel for the period, but it’s light. Overall, this was a fun story, and we learn a lot about Japanese body art.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Vulture Peak

Sonchai Jipecheap #5: “Vulture Peak” by John Burdett. Bangkok’s GMP GNP is prostitution and drugs, but occasionally more vulgar crimes surface. But this is where the police are as corrupt as the worse criminals, and this includes District 8, ruled over by Colonel Vikorn, head of the police. His only honest cop, Sonchai Jipecheap, is delegated the crimes that must be solved to keep the colonel in good with American FBI and CIA. In fact, the Americans want to elevate Colonel Vikorn to Mayor of Bangkok, on his way up to governor. But his nemesis, General Zinna is running against him, so Vikorn’s top detective must solve a big case this time. It must be a case big enough to put Vikorn at the very top of the political field. The colonel points him towards the gruesome trade in body parts, run by Lily and Poly Yip, twin sisters from Hong Kong, who are operating across Asia. China is providing executed prisoners, while the twins gather customers around the world. Already billionaires, they have much power in Asia, and are under the protection of General Zinna. It’s up to Sonchai and Detective Chan from Hong Kong to bust the case, but Chan is a little bit crazy, and the beautiful prostitute named, Om, sidetracks Sonchai. The case seems to lead back to a mountain mansion in Phuket, called Vulture Peak. A fun series, well written, with a descriptive look at Bangkok.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Godfather of Kathmandu

Sonchai Jipecheap #4: “The Godfather of Kathmandu” by John Burdett. The murder of a rich American filmmaker appears ritualistic, but a film discovered shows it was a suicide. Still, Sonchai isn’t satisfied, and won’t be until he solves the case. Working with him is Detective Sukum, who doesn’t like Sonchai, but wants a promotion. When the investigation leads to a rich Chinese woman of high education and power in Bangkok, Sukum isn’t too anxious to pursue the case further. In the meantime, a mysterious Tibetan religious man is offering forty million dollars worth of heroin to Vikorn and Zinna, as neither can come up with the case on their own. This means they will have to form a partnership in the transaction. To make matters worse, Vikorn, who is a fan of the American Godfather movies, makes Sonchair a consigliere. How can a true Buddhist stoop to such low deeds? This was another fascinating murder mystery in the worldly Bangkok.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Secret Mission Tibet

Secret Mission #6: Tibet. America and Russia are both losing their orbiting satellites. Somewhere in Tibet the Chinese are using a laser weapon to burn out the instruments on board, leaving the satellites out of control. However, they haven’t pinpointed the exact location of the weapon, so an old friend, Richard Newton, a NASA scientist asks Phil Sherman to assist the CIA in locating and destroying the weapon. Sherman isn’t a CIA operative, though he does jobs for the CIA occasionally. He owns an import/export business in Paris. Of course, he agrees, and is flown in by George Hardy, a pilot with the CIA.  Sherman finds the weapon, but Chinese soldiers in an abandoned monastery protect it. Sherman contacts the CIA by radio, giving the location, but Hardy and his plane is shot out of the air and Sherman captured. Dr. Liu Chung-lin is in charge of the monastery, and working for him is a German, Otto Von Kruger and his daughter Suwary (Eurasian), and an American scientist named Bill Rogers. It doesn’t take long for him to plan an escape, taking everyone with him, and destroying the weapon in the process. But now they must escape across Tibet to Kashmir with the Chinese on their trail. This was another good entry in the series, but strangely ends as they reach Kashmir, with some of the story untold.  A fun read, though (spoiler alert) everyone but Sherman is killed by the end.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Run From The Mountain

“The Run From The Mountain” by William Groninger. Young Herman Wakely was fresh out of tank and infantry training when he was sent to Occupied Japan in 1946, and assigned to Headquarter I Corps, Military Police Platoon, in Kyoto, with no MP training. Training would be on the job. Wakely would spend his three years with I Corps, and these are his memories of the time.
Sadly, there is no central plot, just little episodes. Men come and go, so we never know who will be in the next sequence. To add to the problem the writing is awkward. The sentences are extremely long, with way too many commas. It suffered from lack of tightening, and good editing. Even though this is a soldier’s story, to the author’s credit the profanity is kept to a minimum. There was only one “f” word within the first 75 pages. I was also disappointed that some of the units were not identified, as my old MP unit, the 720th MPs patrolled Tokyo during the Occupation. After a year Blakely leaves the MPs for Special Services.
Although the story lies somewhere between truth and fiction, I would allow a little truth, a little imagination, and a lot of fiction. I did enjoy the story, especially since some of it was about the Military Police during this time. As it was, many men were selected for MP units just because they were big and tough, or at least looked mean and tough. They needed to be. The cities were wide open, with prostitution, black market, and every kind of contraband imaginable. The GIs were also a big problem. Alcohol makes anyone mean, and American GIs are no exception. MPs had to get rough with them to keep them in line. Later, MPs would be sent through training before assigned to units, and it was their career field. How Blakely left the MPs so easily, since they are forever undermanned, leaves me wondering if it was really his idea or the unit’s to get rid of him. Another situation that left me flabbergasted was when he tells his CO he has decided not to reenlist; they relieve him of duty and cut his orders instantly, and he’s on a ship home that night. Orders and rotation do not happen that fast in the real Army. But it’s the ending that I like best about the book; the feeling when you leave a unit, and the men you served with behind, knowing they had meant the world to you, but now they were in the past, and would be soon forgotten. Read the following by the author:
“It happens like that all the time in the Army.” I said, thinking now of Dillavou. “You meet guys and they’re your friends, then they go or you go. And you never hear from them again. It’s sort of like your life. Things happen you think are really important, but then they pass, and the people that were a part of them go too, and the only real significance is that they happened to you.” And I knew suddenly it was true and that was the way I felt. In a way it pleased me, but it also made me feel lousy to realize that was truly what I believed.
I was not aware of this story when I wrote my own novel about an MP unit in France during the early 1960s. It’s probably a good thing, for I wouldn’t have wanted this novel to influence COLD WAR HEROES. At least mine was tight, and had a plot, though it wasn’t received very well. Readers didn’t understand it was a satire, and were expecting something else. For readers interested in this period of Japan’s Occupation, however, I highly recommend this book, as it will give you an insight into that time of chaos, and the problems of Japan trying to rebuild their nation under the eye of American military presence.

Tom Johnson