Book Review: Cult X by Fuminori Nakamura

Cult X
Fuminori Nakamura
Translated by Kalau Almony
Soho Crime, May 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61695-786-5
Hardcover

Ostensibly, this novel begins with a young man who is seeking a woman he has known who apparently had entered the strange world of a cult, which he then joins in an attempt to find her.  As he progresses in his quest, the reader is exposed to a variety of topics, ranging from sex and violence to religion, astrophysics and neuroscience.

This gives the author the opportunity to write about all kinds of subjects, with long discourses ranging from good and evil to Japanese politics, from war criminals to peace.  Perhaps inspired by the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, the novel is an examination of what attraction extremism has to most people.

The reader has to plow through more than 500 pages of this material, struggling to grasp all the meanings and context in what starts out as a simple love story.  And the task is hardly easy.  It takes a lot of effort and for that reason it is rated lower than one would expect a book written by this author, whose past works received [deservedly] higher ratngs.  Nevertheless, Nakamura pushes us to the limits in his writings, which have made him one of the top Japanese authors.  For this reason, for those willing to stick with it, Cult X is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2018.

Book Reviews: Onion Street by Reed Farrel Coleman, Enigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong, and Evil and the Mask by Fuminori Nakamura

Onion StreetOnion Street
Reed Farrel Coleman
Tyrus Books, May 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4405-3945-9
Hardcover

[The book is also available in trade paperback, ISBN 978-1-4405-3946-6]

After seven novels in the Moe Prager mystery series, a retrospective is in order, especially after Moe has undergone surgery and chemotherapy for stomach cancer.  The occasion follows the funeral of a boyhood (and best) friend, after which his daughter, visiting from Vermont, asks him why he became a cop, and what follows is a story by itself.

Moe looks back to events in 1968 when he and his friends were attending Brooklyn College.  The Vietnam War was raging, radicalism was in the air, and Moe was at loose ends.  One night his girlfriend is found in a coma on the street, apparently having been viciously beaten, and suddenly Moe has a mission: to find the man who beat her up, taking him on a journey that later led him to become a policeman and PI.

It is a hard-boiled tale involving all the worst elements of the period, bomb-throwing radicals, dope pushers, rotten cops and the like.  It also is a deep moral story involving right and wrong.  The humor of past Moe Prager novels is missing from Onion Street, but that is completely understandable: it is not a light-hearted subject with deaths strewn along the way.  And some of Moe’s various actions can be questioned, while his intentions are always honorable.  All in all, it is a very human saga, and we get to know Moe a lot better in a serious way.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2013.

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Enigma of ChinaEnigma of China
Qiu Xiaolong
Minotaur Books, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-250-02580-7
Hardcover

Chief Inspector Chen faces more than a riddle in this latest chronicle of life in Shanghai.  He has to weigh his role as a cop and party official against the truth.  As a result of the supposed suicide of the head of the Shanghai Housing Development Committee following his exposure of massive corruption, Chen is asked to act as a consultant in the police investigation.  The premise is that the result would be a verdict of suicide, burying the case, and Chen’s “endorsement” would seal it, he being known as an incorruptible cop.

The case, however, develops into far more than what the authorities wish, especially when the detective in charge of the case leans toward a murder charge.  The corrupt practices came to light from exposure over the internet, giving the author license to look at the conflict between the loosening of Chinese “democracy” and the conflict with the needs of the one-party system to “harmonize” political crimes.

In a way, the novel takes place on three levels.  First, it is a straightforward police procedural.  Then, as in all of the books in the series, it is a serious look at present-day China.  Lastly, there is some degree of romantic interest, introducing a female journalist who not only provides Chen with much assistance in his investigation, but a sexual attraction as well (although, at least to this point, unconsummated).  The novel follows the similar pattern of including snippets of Chinese poetry along the way to make points.  The one negative comment concerning the novel is the inconclusive ending. But, perhaps, that is to be resolved, along with Chen’s love life, in a future volume.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2013.

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Evil and the MaskEvil and the Mask
Fuminori Nakamura
Soho Crime, June 2013
ISBN: 978-1-616-95212-9
Hardcover

In this author’s second novel to be excellently translated into English, a story in an extremely different genre takes the reader into the realm of crime noir of an unusual nature.  It tells the story of an 11-year-old boy whose father informs him that he is to be trained to become a “cancer” on the world, creating havoc and misery wherever he goes.  The family, it seems, has developed a long line of such evil, each generation spawning one such monster.

So the training begins, and a young girl is brought in to become a companion to the boy. They fall in love, part of the father’s plan to subject the boy to “hell” at some future date.  Instead the boy, three years later, murders his father and consequently ends up just as he might have had the original plan come to fruition.  He spends his life thereafter trying to hide from the very fact that he has committed the ultimate crime and, at the same time, trying to protect the girl from evil.

The prose is as simple and straightforward as the tale is twisted.  It is a far different effort from this author’s previous novel, The Thief, which also described an antihero, albeit of a different stripe.  This book is a complicated crime novel with deep psychological undertones into the minds of warped persons.  It is told in the first person by the protagonist as he endures the horrors to which he is subjected, yet demonstrating his efforts to overcome the onus of what he has done and his background.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2013.

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.

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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.

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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.