Book Reviews: The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura, The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill, and Buffalo Bill’s Dead Now by Margaret Coel

The ThiefThe Thief
Fuminori Nakamura
Translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates
Soho Crime, January 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61695-202-0
Trade Paperback

This novel is an interesting idea in need of fulfillment.  Somehow, it leaves the reader somewhat confused.  It recounts the development of a pickpocket who generally only removes wallets from rich people.  Along the way, the author philosophizes about the “profession” of picking pockets, including a little history of some of the more famous practitioners of the art.

The thief himself tells the story in the first person.  However, for all he has to say about his work and life, we learn very little about him and exactly why what happens to him in the end occurs.  Or, really, about any of the other characters.  They all seem to be symbols of something, but none is precisely explained.

Tightly written, the book is a fast read.  But on reaching the conclusion this reader, at least, wondered what it was all about.  Hopefully, in a future work, the author will turn his talent to a more fully developed plot and characterizations, of which The Thief indicates he is capable.  The book is worthy of note, and therefore is recommended despite the above reservations.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Woman Who Wouldn't DieThe Woman Who Wouldn’t Die
Colin Cotterill
Soho Crime, February 2013
ISBN: 978-1-616-95206-8
Hardcover

This newest in the Dr. Siri mysteries not only takes on the Laotian coroner’s obsession with contact with the dead, but provides us with a lot of background on the good doctor and his wife and the role they played in the revolution. At the same time, the novel is a first rate mystery.  It begins when Dr. Siri is offered a “vacation” upriver to supervise the recovery of the brother of a Lao general whose body is supposedly at the bottom of a river, lying in a submerged boat for many years.

The general is prodded to undertake the excavation of the boat by his wife, who is influenced by a woman clairvoyant who was supposedly shot to death, only to reappear after the body was burned on a pyre.  The woman claims she can speak to the dead and knows where the body is located.  Wary but open to the suggestion that the woman might teach him to be able to contact the dead, Dr. Siri goes along.

Meanwhile, Dr. Siri encourages his wife, Madam Daeng, to write an autobiography, from which we learn a lot about her earlier life as a participant in the liberation forces.  This book, as were previous entries in the series, is an education into the people and culture of Laos.  The dialog is wry and often humorous, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2013.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buffalo Bill's Dead NowBuffalo Bill’s Dead Now
Margaret Coel
Berkley Prime Crime, September 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-25225-3
Mass Market Paperback

This novel, the newest in the widely acclaimed Wind River Mystery series, is a little different from its predecessors.  While still featuring Vicki and Father John, the thrust of the book is well in the past: the late 19th century, to be exact, when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show toured Europe featuring various Indian groups, including Arapahos like Chief Black Heart.

It appears that the regalia worn by the Chief went missing when the tour came to an end, only to be discovered when the building in which it was hidden was being demolished.  The items were purchased by a local rancher and donated to the museum at the St. Francis mission. However, en route from Germany the shipment is hijacked, and Vicki and Father John, as usual, have to come to the rescue.  The mystery includes the murder of the donor, who might have known more about the stolen goods.  Complicating the investigation is a feud between two Arapaho families with lineage back to the principal players way back when.

Intertwined in the tale are descriptions of what it is like living on a reservation, now and in the distant past, and the effect on the lives of Native Americans.  The plot is well-presented, with the requisite suspense to keep the reader wondering what comes next.  The real question, always present, is the relationship between Vicki and Father John and what, if anything, will ever develop.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2013.