Sunday, May 24, 2015

Saigon Singer

Major North #15: “Saigon Singer” (1946) by Van Wyck Mason. Colonel Hugh North resigns his rank of colonel to remain a field agent. G-2 has received word that someone in Saigon can give them the names of British and Americans who consorted with a Japanese general, identifying our agents, resulting in their deaths. Now America and British governments want them brought to trial for treason.  His cover is a safari to shoot tigers in Indo-China, and his contact will come to him. The British sends their man, Brigadier Bruce Kilgore to assist Major North. Pamela Saunders, an American prisoner during the Japanese occupation, had the mistress of the general in order to survive, and she has the records. A gifted opera singer in Saigon, she wants money that will take her to the Stage in Paris and New York, and will reveal the secret for the right price – if North can keep her alive.
This was a good plot, but lacked action. I was mainly disappointed in the lack of detail of Indo-China in 1946. This was right after WWII, and the defeat of Germany and Japan. Indo-China was a colony of France, and everyone involved in the Saigon case is American or European. We do get this brief description: At the more important intersections diminutive gendarmes in conical lampshade hats used white batons in languid efforts to direct traffic. Nobody appeared to give them more than casual and tolerant consideration. Chinese, Annamite, Malay, Negroid, Caucasian, Sikhs, and Arabs hustled about.
I did enjoy the writing, no matter how boring it was. The author used a lot of words that kept me reaching for the dictionary, and I enjoy finding new words to play with. For instance, the following:
Definitely callopegic, eh?”
“The word, old boy, is callipygian.”
“What kind of double talk is that?” a third party wondered.
“Merely a brief dissertation upon the pulchritudinous merits of the charming nymphs of the asphalt who just passed.”
Well, my dictionary could not find callopegic or callipygian, but pulchritudinous tells us they were discussing the beauty of street hookers.
I’m not sure who the Annamites were, but supposed they are the local inhabitants – Vietnamese. The final confrontation came twenty miles from Saigon, in one of my old stomping grounds, Bieh Hoa, so that tickled me, though it would be 24 years later when I arrived. The French Colonists controlled Saigon and Indo-China, and whether the author meant to or not, it didn’t paint a very good picture colonialism.  Still, the plot was good, and the story interesting, even if there wasn’t much action on the part of our hero. It was a fun read, regardless.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Harem of His Men

The Harem of Hsi Men by Jin Ping Mei. Early Chinese literature. Almost unreadable in modern day novels, the basic premise involves a rich Chinese who has no children or other pleasures. One day his wife allows him to buy a couple girls to sing, dance and play flutes all day to entertaining him. One of the girls dies early on, but the young Chin Lien (called Gold Lotus) becomes his true entertainment. She’s smart, can read and write, and knows how to apply makeup, and it isn’t long before Master Chang desires her for other, more private, entertainment. When his wife catches on, she immediately tries to put a stop to this hanky-panky, and forces Master Chang to give the girl away in marriage. The crafty old Chang gives her to his poor tenant also residing in the master’s home, and when the old tenant is out working, Master Chang carries on his affair with the young Gold Lotus. When the wife finally has enough, she forces the tenant and Chin Lien out, and away from her husband’s clutches for good. At least the book does have a great cover, but the story is too old-fashioned to really be worth reading for modern taste.

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.