September 17, 2009

I cannot say whether it is a happy accident or something altogether more otherworldly, but it happens that just as I head back to Japan and Korea for the winter, three of the four books I will be reviewing for this month’s Whodunit column have distinct connections to the Lands of the Rising Sun and the Morning Calm, respectively.

Andrew Vachss’ Haiku features an enigmatic Japanese lead character by the name of Ho, a martial arts master fallen on hard times, living beneath a pier in the company of a¬†quintet of homeless and overtly eccentric acolytes. When an elegant Rolls Royce visits their quayside lair and its owner casts a mysterious package into the harbor, the nefarious quartet considers how best to turn a profit on this potentially valuable piece of intelligence.

Then, with the riveting GI Bones, author Martin Limon brings back military policemen Bascom and Sueno, who patrol the streets of Itaewon (the no-holds-barred pleasure quarter of Seoul), attempting to maintain military justice in the Korea of the heady 1970s. The partners are charged with the disinterring of the bones of a controversial military man from the days immediately following the close of the Korean Conflict some twenty years before.

The third member of the triumvirate, Laura Joh Rowland, offers up The Cloud Pavilion, the latest installment in the saga of Inspector Ichiro Sano, police aide to the Shogun of Japan more than 300 years ago. A series of kidnap/rapes have terrorized the women of Edo (feudal-era Tokyo), and now the Shogun’s wife has disappeared as well. Intrigues within the Edo Castle walls plague Sano’s investigation at every turn, and the Shogun has made it abundantly clear that Sano’s fate will not be a happy one if he cannot solve the mystery post haste.

So what about the fourth book to be reviewed, you may be wondering? It is Don Bruns’ clever Stuff Dreams Are Made Of, book two of the adventures of a pair of ne’er-do-well Floridians with dreams much broader than their limited talents can bring to fruition. Still, it is a hoot and a half to watch them try. It likely would have been more dramatic, not to mention more eerie, if all four books had had some Asian connection, but it may be a case of the rule being proved by the exception, and it is a question deeper than I am prepared to ponder on the eve of my departure. So sayonara for now; stay tuned for my next missive from Japan in a few days.