Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Emperor's Pearl


Judge Dee #10: “The Emperor’s Pearl” by Robert van Gulik. Based on a real magistrate of Poo-yang district in central China during the 6th or 7th century, he was China’s equivalent of Sherlock Holmes. Along with his adviser, Sergeant Hoong, solves baffling mysteries. In “The Emperor’s Pearl” several murders involving people in the antique business. Perhaps a great jewel belonging to the house of the emperor is at stake, but the master detective senses there is also a sexual maniac torturing young slave girls at the bottom of the case, and the killer/maniac may be someone high and respected in the community. This is my first encounter with the Judge Dee mysteries, and overall it is a good mystery, and has interesting characters. Written in the style of Sherlock Homes and Watson, Judge Dee and Sergeant Hoong match wits with wily criminals, bringing the case to a surprising end in dramatic style. A bit of fun reading.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Omari And The People

“Omari And The People” by Stephen Whitfield. In The City, located on the sea of Providence, somewhere in the Empty Quarter of the Sahara Desert on the African continent, during the `13th Century, a rogue known as the Phantom Thief takes pleasure in robbing the wealthy ruling class; He lives high on his takings, as well, but has a good heart. An old woman in the square begs for food, which he buys for her when he visits the poor section. Returning to his home one night, he discovers that his wife has betrayed him, and has revealed his identity to the authorities. Burning his mansion, the fire also destroys The City. When he notices the old woman is still inside the flames, he rushes back to rescue her. Now he’s tasked with leading the survivors of The City to a fabled Paradise somewhere in the desert.
Omari was that mysterious thief, a young rogue, good with a sword and tricks, who enjoyed stealing the government’s tax money, even though he did not need it. But what, or who has chosen him to lead the exodus to the Promised Land? The handsome young rogue attracts the eye of a number of young women on the caravan, but he has fallen for Saba Khan, a warrior woman possessing some magic of her own, though the real magic belongs to the old woman he had saved from the fire.
This was a very interesting story, and kept my interest throughout. The characters were fascinating, the magic was brilliant, and the story telling was smooth.  Truthfully, however, I felt that Omari the Phantom Thief was more interesting than Omari the caravan leader. And at times the story does slow on the journey through the desert. This novel could have been serialized in ARGOSY or ADVENTURE in the 1930’s. There is no language, and sex is kept off screen.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Hard Latitudes

Mike Travis #4: “Hard Latitudes” by Baron R. Birtcher. May Ling is raped and held captive as a sex slave in Hong Kong. Unknown to her, this will culminate in violence and death as events move to the US, where she is to be a pawn in a deadly duel between the Chinese and a pharmaceutical giant.
Mike Travis Kamahale Van de Groot gave up his name and position in the Van de Groot family-empire to become his own man. After a career as a police detective in L.A., he moved to Kona, Hawaii to live on his sailboat. But trouble continues to follow him. His brother is his latest problem. Valden Van de Groot is a predator of women, and he’s in a mess again. It seems he picked up a 17-year-old girl in an L.A. hotel lounge, and their bedroom activity was videotaped. Now someone is blackmailing him for three million dollars, and Valden wants his brother to take care of the problem.
After taking care of the L.A. problem in the first half of the book, Mike Travis returns to Hawaii, where he encounters the pharmaceutical giant of industry, Phillip Lennox and his son, J.R. Someone has kidnapped J.R.’s son, and Phillip’s grandson, and J.R. wants Mike to find him. Now the three stories come together, as the boat May Ling is on flounders in the sea, and the crew has abandoned ship. It’s being towed to Hawaii, and may prove disastrous to Phillip Lennox’s empire, and Mike Travis fills in all the blanks from his brother’s blackmail to the child’s kidnapping, and the Chinese connection with Lennox’s pharmaceuticals and the tragic story of May Ling.

A very complicated plot that all comes together in the end. This story is well written, and keeps our interest with believable action, and memorable characters.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tokyo Kill

Jim Brodie #2: “Tokyo Kill” by Barry Lancet. During WWII, Japanese soldiers occupying China hid the Last Emperor’s treasure, then it disappeared. Now, it appears some of the missing items have surfaced, and people are being murdered for the information. When an ex-Japanese soldier seeks help from Brodie Security, Jim Brodie reluctantly takes the case, not sure what his people can do. Some of the old soldiers are being murdered, along with their families, and he thinks he’s next. Putting guards on the old soldier, he’s shocked and amazed when the old man’s son is murdered. The signs point to Chinese Triads, but the Chinese say it’s not them. When Brodie breaks into a local Kendo club the son belonged to, he is attacked by men wearing masks, and beaten badly, throwing some suspicion on the martial arts club. Then he hears about a mysterious Japanese secret society called Black Wind that operated in China during the war.
This sequel to “Japantown” is another fast paced thriller with good action and mystery, and a nice twist at the end. I like the idea of these secret societies trained in killing techniques, and Japan seems to be filled with such groups. We get a lesson in Japanese and Asian culture, without it distracting from the pace of the story, and the author continues to introduce fascinating characters that I want to see more of, like the high ranking Chinese spy, and, of course, the new love interest for Jim Brodie. The story is not stuck in Japan, but moves to Miami and a South American country for the final confrontation with a sword-wielding master. Great action, good plot, and interesting characters. What more could the reader ask for? Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Japantown


Jim Brodie #1: “Japantown” by Barry L. Lancet. Brodie lives in San Francisco where he owns an art shop, specializing in Japanese art and Asian artifacts. He is also half owner of Brodie Security in Tokyo, Japan, his co-owner was his father’s partner in the business, and Jim inherited his share when his father died. Jim Brodie is also a single father raising a six-year-old girl alone since his wife died in a fire.
Then one night his friend, Lieutenant Frank Renna of the San Francisco Police Department called for his assistance at a crime scene in Japantown. At the scene of the brutal murder of a Japanese family and their bodyguard, a scrap of paper with a unique character printed on it is found near the bodies. Lt. Renna hopes Brodie can identify the Japanese character and give them a clue to the killers. The same symbol had been at the scene of Brodie’s wife’s death, and this may prove that she was also murdered. Though he doesn’t know the meaning of the characters, he promises to use his detective agency in Japan to research it.
The next day he is approached by a billionaire Japanese businessman who wants to hire Brodie to investigate the killing also. He explains that the woman murdered in Japantown was his daughter. But Brodie learns the man has other reasons, as well. And before the case concludes, Brodie, his company investigators in Japan, and the San Francisco police will be up against professional killers: The Soga; a private army of assassins for hire of Japanese origin based somewhere overseas.
This was a fun and exciting read, with the action set in both America and Japan. There were a lot of similarities between Jack Seward’s Curt Stone, and Earl Norman’s Burns Bannion, but better written (maybe not the same kind of fun as Burns Bannion, though, but much better written). The Soga group reminded me of CYPHER, the organization of ex-soldiers who were also an army of hired assassins The Shadow put out of business in that series. The difference being, CYPHER was an organization made up of trained soldiers, Soga is made up of martial arts experts from all walks of life. But the ideals are the same. This thrill-a-minute action will keep the reader turning the pages.