Thursday, December 16, 2010

70. The Japanese Corpse by Janwillem van de Wetering

Continuing on with the adventures of Dutch detectives de Gier and Grijstra and their commisaris. This time, they get involved in the culture and criminal world of Japan. The story starts with a half-Japanese, half-American hostess of a Japanese restaurant who is convinced that her disappeared Japanese boyfriend has been murderd by the Yakusa (sic-this is how it is spelled in the book). This leads our heroes into interactions with the small Japanese community in Amsterdam and then to Japan itself for a major operation involving the Dutch diplomatic corps, the CIA and the Japanese secret service to bust up an antique and drug-smuggling Yakusa ring.

I had mixed feelings about this book as well, although overall I quite enjoyed it and I think it tipped me over into keeping and eventually reading the other two books in the series I was given. This isn't a series I will go out of my way to read in its entirety, but it will always be on my list in case I stumble across one I haven't read for cheap and I am in want of good reading material.

On the positive side, the main characters really continued to grow on me. They are so civilized and thoughtful, but still kind of badass and tough. Their personal lives are well drawn. We fantasize about the freedom and sexual success of the younger, good-looking de Gier and we sympathize with the older one, trapped by a nagging wife and obnoxious children. Their commisarius is the perfect boss, guiding but flexible, with a vast hidden experience. There are some great action moments in this book as well, though the style in which they are delivered is as straightforward and deliberate as the rest of the book. Sometimes I almost think it was written in Dutch and translated rather artlessly, but I think that is van de Wetering's style. It's generally quite good, but for the action scenes, a little more energy might be fitting. Sometimes you don't even realize action has started!

Though this leads me to another cool thing. As a writer, de Wetering likes to surprise the reader from time to time. It's quite well done. At one point, Grijstra is reminiscing on an interrogation he just came from and you are led to believe that he learned nothing new until all of a sudden he drops it on you that the subject broke down and revealed some game-changing info. This happens again with a major event happening to one of the protagonists. It just comes out of the blue and is most distressing and ends up informing his behaviour for the rest of the book (and probably books to come). These "surprises" are very well staged and force you to pay attention in a good way.

The plot also is much more complex and engaging. Going to Japan is cool and for a book written in the 70s (back when Japan was mysterious and exotic instead of bug-nuts wacky as we know now today), the culture is treated with depth and respect. The flaw for me in the book is that the ending drew on a bit long. The protagonists and their relation to Japan had been spelled out and resolved, but there was still a lot of plot to get through, that felt to me lacking in energy somehow. All in all, though, a very enjoyable read and taking me one book closer to the Book Glutton challenge!

No comments: