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Shinjuku Shark Paperback – Jan 8 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Osawa's popular Japanese police procedural series makes its U.S. debut with this translation of the first volume. Maverick detective Samejima has made enemies on both sides of the law. Unwilling to compromise his principles, the young policeman refuses to turn a blind eye to the corruption engendered by the Yakuza, a powerful organized crime syndicate, and finds himself stuck patrolling Tokyo's grimy Shinjuku district and increasingly isolated on the force. That ostracism forces Samejima to launch his own probe when an elusive sniper begins targeting his fellow officers, using an unconventional weapon to kill them in pairs. While some rough sections of exposition disrupt the narrative flow, Samejima's compelling struggle to find the truth and the startling revelation of the killer's motive will leave most readers eager for the next book in the series to become available. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Seventeen years after it launched a series of books and films in Japan, the debut of crusading Tokyo detective Samejima gets its first English translation. Too bad it's such a stilted one. But past the bamboo thicket of exposition about police politics lies a decent yarn about this lone shark's hunt for a master gun maker who may be responsible for a series of cop killings in the city's Shinjuku entertainment district. Because Samejima refused to accommodate the Yakuza and ignore abusive colleagues, his once-promising career has stalled, and no one will be his partner. The only reason he hasn't been drummed out: he holds a whistle-blowing letter that could embarrass the force. Since Samejima's too stubborn to quit, he's given a free hand to crack down on crime wherever he finds it. But when he refuses to set aside his gunsmith stakeout and follow up other leads in the cop-killing case, the departmental shunning metastasizes into open hostility. With everythingincluding the life of his rock-singer girlfriendon the line, Samejima delivers a rousing potboiler finish. Sennett, FrankSee all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The only issue is that, at times in the first half of the book, it's not entirely clear if the events are happening in realtime or in a flashback. Given that this series is a bestseller in Japan, I can only assume that the translation is the cause. There are a few other hiccups like this along the way, but I still can't wait to see what happens next.
In this story, we meet Samejima, and we learn of his relationship with his girlfriend, Sho. We also get to see his rather unique handling of a number of things, such as his dealings with the yakuza, whom the other police negotiate with so neither side loses too much face (Samejima, on the other hand, beats them up and treats them like losers). We are also introduced to a number of characters who will likely recur through the series, such as Fujimaka, the police commissioner, Momoi, the captain of Samejima's department, Yuba, the firearms specialist who brings American knowledge of guns to the Japanese, Sho, Samejima's girlfriend, and Kodo and Shinjo, two erstwhile police officers more concerned with promotions than justice.
The story line is fairly simple. There is a person on the loose in Shinjuku, who is shooting police officers, and the entire police force is wrapped up in catching him. Except Samejima, who is far more interested in tracking down an old foe, Kizu, who illegally manufactures guns for the yakuza. It becomes obvious early in the story that there is some involvement of Kizu in the killings, because the officers are shot, which is exceptionally uncommon in Japan, and he manufactures illegal weapons. Meanwhile, a wannabe detective perpetually involves himself in the crimes as an informant. As the story progresses, it heads towards a final confrontation between Samejima, Kizu, the mysterious informant who gives his name as "Ed", and the shooter. Only at the end do we know which, if any, of these people are the same.
Several things bothered me about this story. First, the killer is repeatedly described as a serial killer, which is inaccurate (it would be more accurate to say that he is a spree killer). This inaccuracy is merely annoying, but it perpetuates some silly ideas, ones that I would like to see go away. (Serial killers only very rarely do it BECAUSE they hate someone or some people; they more often do it to ACHIEVE a feeling rather
than as a RESULT of a feeling. This difference is critical in catching the perpetrator.)
In addition, the character development could be described as either anemic (which is generous) or non-existent (which is harsh) or predictable (which is ugly). This is particularly egregious, as it is obvious early on that this is intended to be part of an ongoing series, with all of the characters already mentioned (or, at least, those that survive) returning for the next books. Indeed, you can feel that Arimasa has plotted out several books, and that there will be events from this book that become important later.
The interaction between Kizu and Samejima is also bizarre. If Kizu is, as described, meticulous and detail-oriented, he would merely have killed Samejima and kept the location of his workshop secret. Instead, he decides to torture him. If this is, as is intimated, a result of what happened to Kizu in prison because of Samejima's having previously arrested him, then it would make sense. But some kind of greater character development in that arena would have been a nice thing to see.
There are perhaps two mysteries about this book. First, an internal mystery. How does Samejima harass, constantly, gangs in the most dangerous part of Tokyo and NOT end up dead somehow? It is widely known that he travels alone, that he is not popular with other police, and that he is unruly. How has no one just shot him yet? Second, an external mystery. I understand why this book and the series are popular (they are simple, fast-paced, and written like a movie screenplay). What I DON'T understand is why critics would like this series. After all, this book won the Eiji Yoshikawa Award for fiction and the Naoki Prize. So, someone must think that it is good. Why?
If you enjoy hardboiled mysteries, and you are curious what a Japanese one would be like, pick this up. If you enjoy Japanese pop fiction, and are curious what a Japanese hardboiled mystery would be like, pick this up. If you like both, why haven't you read this yet? If you aren't a huge fan of at least one of these genres, you should probably pass on this, because there are better things out there (the Aurelio Zen series immediately leaps to mind).