Wednesday, May 02, 2007

New from Japan, not so new from Ireland



Two books that I've recently read don't really qualify as noir, for different reasons, but I'll talk about them briefly anyway. John Galvin's Bog Warriors is a comic mystery published a few years ago, dealing with the Irish police (the gardaí) and a murder in a rural town. There's a good deal of comedy dealing with relationships both among the townfolk and among the police, but for the most part this is a rural cozy, played out in the form of a police procedural preceded by a portrait of small town life and followed by a couple of plot twists more typical of the mystery genre. During the procedural section, the novel takes on a forward drive missing in the other sections, but overall the book is enjoyable both for the comedy and the police portraits (Galvin is a working garda, still on the force--his second novel is a serial killer thriller that has not had glowing reviews). One thing I cannot understand (maybe somebody can help me!) is the cover of the paperback as issued by the Irish publisher. I could not find any reference to cowboys and horses in the book--and when I do an image search, I find this photo popping up in other places in the Celtic world. Does it have local reference to the "bog warriors" of the title (either the drinkers or the defenders of order)? Somebody please help. The Japanese novel, recently published in English translation, is Asa Nonami's The Hunter, featuring a female detective named Takako Otomichi and her older male partner, Tamotsu Takizawa (the point of view fluctuates between them and also to a narrative voice that describes the crimes). There are hideous crimes described (attacks by a wolf-like animal, fires started by arson and by a terrible chemical weapon) but the focus on Otomichi and Takizawa is hardly of a "hard-boiled" character, which may be due to Japanese culture, to translation difficulties, or indeed to the aims of the author. But whatever the case, I find my attention drifting away from the difficulties of the two partners in adjusting to one another, the problematic home situations of both of them, and so forth. Too much soap opera (a term I've mentioned before--it's the word I use to explain to my wife why I like Law & Order but didn't like NYPD Blue, to use a TV-series example). I want to shake both the principal characters by the shoulders and get their attention back on the case--I don't really care whether they ever get along with one another (though we know they will gain each other's respect by the end of the book, it's that kind of story). Even on the case, there are cultural differences that prevent the story away from the noir tone: The detective squad spends a condiderable time deciding the name of the case (what they come up with sounds sort of like a Perry Mason book title, or even a Hardy Boys title)--it's difficult to tell if this process (and the title itself) are intended for comic effect, since there's little other attempt at humor in the book. Still, I don't want to just complain about The Hunter; it's a window on a very different culture and its police, its crimes, and its attitudes toward women. If it doesn't delve as much into the underside of Japanese culture as, say, the books of Natsuo Kirino or Ryu Murakami, and is more an old-fashioned copy/mystery novel than the neo-noir that the book's cover suggests, it's still a well-told story that a lot of people will enjoy.

3 comments:

Maxine said...

Hm, interesting, can't help on the horses I'm afraid.
I had not heard of any Japanese crime fiction before (though I am only too well up on manga). I find it intriguing that there is a female detective who sounds pretty hard boiled even if her concentration is not in the right place. Is it unusual to have a female Japanese police detective? If so, I'm tempted to read this one just to get a feel for the atmosphere, what it must be like, etc.

Glenn Harper said...

Maxine: There are some other female crime writers in Japan who've been translated, but none with female cop characters. I think it must be pretty rare to have senior police or detectives who are women (not unique to Japan--somebody explained the fact that Dominique Manotti and Chantal Pelletier from France both use male detectives by saying that even now, NObody in France would accept a female senior detective. Nonetheless there's a French film out recently with a senior female detective, Le Petit Lieutenant). There are several other Japanese detective novels with male detectives, as well as the hard-boiled books by women such as Natsuo Kirino (I mentioned her in the post above) and Amy Yamada (not a crime writer per se, but down-in-the-gutter realism).

Euro Crime said...

I've got The Hunter on the library book TBR but when I'll get to it...

The BBC showed a French crime drama a while ago called Spiral and the main/senior police character is a woman. I hadn't realised how unusual that might have been. It was an excellent show and there's to be a second series. I just hope it gets shown in the UK again.