Mystery/Thriller Book Reviews

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The Tattoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi translated by Deborah Boehm

SoHo Press, Dec., 1997.
Hardcover, 316 pages.
ISBN: 1569471088.
Ordering information:

The Tattoo Murder Case
by Akimitsu Takagi In the summer of 1947, the inhabitants of Tokyo are still reeling over the loss of the war and the devastation of their city, their country and their families. Kenzo Matsushita, back to civilian life after being pressed into service as a military medic during the war, is continuing his studies at the Tokyo Medical School while waiting for an opening on the police medical staff where his older brother holds the title of Detective Chief Inspector. One evening, while looking for some entertainment, Kenzo stumbles across a bizarre gathering -- the annual meeting of the tattoo society which gives a prize for the best tattoo. Tattooing is illegal in Japan and is ostensibly frowned upon, although in actuality the society has a secret love and fascination for the ancient art. At the contest, Kenzo meets the winner of the contest -- a beautiful woman with a full body tattoo by her father, one of Japan's most skilled and famous tattoo artists. Their torrid affair barely starts when the beautiful Kinue Nomura is found brutally murdered in her home in a room locked on the inside with the skin of her torso containing the exquisite tattoo missing. Kenzo is first on the scene and is forced to call in his brother to solve the case, while trying to hide his own affair with Kinue. Terrified of becoming a suspect, torn with grief at the loss of his lover, Kinue calls in his brilliant friend Kyosuke to assist in solving the crime. As the pair dig deeper into the history of Kinue they find out that her father the famous tattoo artist had tattooed his three children with the images of three of the most famous images from Japanese mythology -- three images which legend says will destroy each other if they are juxtaposed. When the owner of the second tattoo is also found dead, Kenzo and Kyosuke must race against time to discover the secret of the legendary curse, determine the involvement of the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) and locate the whereabouts of the person with the missing third tattoo, before the murderer strikes again and before Kenzo's brother must face the shame of being unable to solve the case.

Originally published in 1948 as Shisei Satsujin Jiken, The Tattoo Murder Case is the first work of legendary mystery novelist Akimitusu Takagi, one of Japan's bestselling and most acclaimed mystery novelists. Published by Soho, the work appears for the first time in English in this translation by Deborah Boehm. Boehm had a monstrous task ahead of her in the translation; not only the language barriers but the difficult task of describing another culture in a different time period in which customs and attitudes differed greatly from those of modern day Japan and America. Boehm does a masterful job in the translation. The prose is clear and clean and the characters voices speak to us. The descriptions of the fables and myths of ancient Japan and of the cult of the full-body tattoo are fascinating and are deftly interwoven into the murder mystery. The mystery is an intriguing puzzle which combined with the story of the difficulties Kenzo has in adapting to life as a civilian in a post-war society in which everything has changed make for an engrossing read. A gift from the past for non-Japanese speaking readers, this jewel of a story must not be missed.

--Claire E. White

The Perfidious Parrot by Janwillem Van De Wetering

SoHo Press, Oct., 1997.
Hardcover, 288 pages.
ISBN: 1569471029.
Ordering information:

The Perfidious Parrot
by Janwillem Van De Wetering In this 14th entry into the Amsterdam Cops Series the notorious pair of detectives Grijpstra and de Gier and their former superior officer the Commissaris have retired from the police force after finding a secret cache of dollars hidden by some long-gone and not-missed drug dealers. Operating a detective agency merely as a front to explain their increased income to the tax authorities, they while away the days in idleness until one day a mysterious father and son team arrive on their doorstep and demand that Grijpstra and de Gier investigate the highjacking of their supertanker in the Dutch Caribbean. Uninterested in exerting themselves, the pair declines the offer in order to continue their leisurely pursuit of retirement until their unwanted clients resort to blackmail and scare tactics to force G & G, Inc. to take the case. De Grijpstra, de Gier and the Commissaris set off on a journey to find the pirates of the supertanker following a dangerous trail that will take them from the strip clubs of Key West to the islands of St. Eustatius and Aruba. The unwilling detective team finds more than it bargained for, however. Not only do they discover a heinous plot involving piracy and murder, but they also discover something they thought they had lost: a conscience.

Written in van de Wetering's inimitable style, The Perfidious Parrot is a glorious romp through the tropics which dips into the murky waters of Zen philosophy and the exploration of conscience. Satirical, dry, and oftentimes hilarious, the adventures of the two ex-cops and their mentor and money-manager the Commissaris is a welcome respite from the normal, everyday world. Indulge and Enjoy.

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