Ben Macintyre * Tony Tetro * Robert Harris * Hannah Sward * Kaoru Takamura * Stephen King * Cat Rambo * Kerry Dolan * S. A. Chakraborty
Really crushing the reading. Blazed through 600 pages of Lady Joker, volume two in two days. What can self say? Detective Yoichiro Goda and his lonely quest to catch the Lady Joker just got under her skin. Even though she was sick as a dog yesterday (Don’t worry, it’s not fun, but at least it’s not covid), she just had to see how it ended. Since he’s been such a lonely, reticent soul, and seemed to be sinking deeper into the well of despond with every encounter with his superiors, she feared he was about to go all Mishima. In fact, at one point, he does start putting his affairs in order, giving away things — like from his long-dead marriage — Oh no!
But, suffice it to say, self was thrilled, THRILLED by that epilogue. Five stars to Lady Joker, volume two!
Next: Ling Ma, BLISS MONTAGE: STORIES
This scene takes place in the washroom of the police station in Setagaya. Yuichiro Goda has just been publicly humiliated by a superior, after the latest police attempt to apprehend the Lady Joker gang has turned out to be nothing but a wild goose chase.
Goda knew that from this day on there was nothing but the relentless search for evidence. There would be no time to sleep; no longer blessed with the stamina he’d had in his twenties, he found his joints were wincing in pain. Goda washed his face at the sink and, seeing his face reflected in the mirror, he immediately averted his eyes from the unwelcome sight. A voice inside of him whispered — You are an aberration, a perversion beyond a normal loss of self. In order to shush the voice away, he took off his socks and, raising one foot at a time to the sink, he washed them thoroughly. Outsid the small window facing Sangyo Road, he heard the scurrying footsteps of the media corps — Kota Sasaki must have been released — cascading over the burst of camera shutters, the lively scene seeming to belong to another world.— Lady Joker, volume two, p. 236
Self tries to compare Lady Joker to those bleak Scandinavian novels she used to love, decades ago, the ones she read after Smilla’s Sense of Snow. There is the same sense of spiritual anomie, and in this story it does seem to rain quite a bit. Interesting, both Goda and the President of the Hinode Beer corporation are Christian. At least, they attend mass. But everything else about them is very Japanese.
The cat-and-mouse between the President of the Hinode Beer Corporation and the dogged bodyguard Yuichiro Goda has been going on now for six weeks. In that time, Goda has worn out two pairs of shoes and ridden xx number of bullet trains in an effort to stay just three steps behind Shiroyama, at all times. Finally, the moment of truth is at hand. It’s been such an exciting game, but Goda’s boss wants results: Is the President of the Hinode Beer Corporation about to strike a deal with the extortionists (against the instructions of the police)? Goda is about to find out. He feels ambivalent about what he has to do, for in the weeks the men have spent together, a grudging respect has sprung up between them.
Shiroyama’s face still hadn’t moved a muscle, but an array of reactions glinted in his eyes. There was a vacancy, as if his thoughts were focused elsewhere. A matter-of-fact consideration, devoid of any deep emotion. Slight confusion at being confronted by this outsider showing his true colors. It was possible to glimpse a certain confidence in that look of confusion, and that confidence then turned to fury, dismay, superiority, and mercilessness, before shifting back to confidence, and Goda experienced each of these as if they were reflected in his own eyes. Shiroyama was not alone in being furious, dismayed, and merciless.— Lady Joker, Volume Two, p. 177
Following the sections from the Yuichiro Goda point of view are sections from the Kyosuke Shiroyama point of view, which is fortunate because the next most interesting character in Lady Joker (after Yuichiro Goda) is Shiroyama, the President of the Hinode Beer Company.
Shiroyama opened the door to show Kurata out of his office. In the anteroom, Goda stood in his usual spot, and bowed as he opened the door for Kurata. Once he was gone and Goda had closed the door, Shiroyama said, “I’m staying the night, so you should go on home. Tomorrow, please come here at the usual time.”
Shiroyama had attempted to maintain a normal tone and expression, but Goda’s eyes quickly took in Shiroyama’s entire mien and he blurted out, “You look white as a sheet.”
Over the last seventeen days, the straightforward quality of Goda’s gaze was unerringly the same. You spy, Shiroyama thought — and yet even now Shiroyama gave in and assented to this clairvoyant interloper.— Lady Joker, Volume Two, p. 91
What a character! The whole Lady Joker crime caper can go to hell. There is only one person whose point of view self is interested in reading about, and it’s Goda, the detective chosen to be the body man to the president of the Hinode beer company.
She wishes the narrative had focused on just him, instead of splintering into so many viewpoints: the president, the reporter(s), the criminal(s) etc. Because if you read this (hefty) tome by skipping over the sections not his, then what you have is a very enthralling character study.
Goda lives alone (of course). He doesn’t own a car. He stops at a grocery on his way home (he sleeps?) and buys bananas and milk. His supervisor doesn’t trust him and sometimes drops by unexpectedly. This is how the supervisor knows that Goda’s brother-in-law (or, rather, his EX-brother-in-law, since Goda’s 18-year-marriage has failed) sometimes drops by Goda’s apartment to vacuum, do his laundry, and iron his shirts. Goda’s brother-in-law reminds him to take better care of himself, then serves him delicious meals (“silken tofu from Kyoto, vibrantly green blanched spinach, grilled eggplant garnished with ginger and the finest silver dried herring measuring almost six centimeters in length”)
The reason for his brother-in-law’s most recent visit is that Goda’s picture has appeared in a tabloid: “When I saw you in that tabloid photo, it felt like something was insane. Besides, even though you’ve got a suit on like the rest of them, your shoes look different from a true corporate man. Your demeanor’s not the same. It takes a stiff brush to get the grime off the seams of your shoes.”
Do you see what self means? Isn’t Yuichiro Goda a fascinating character? Self wishes there were more novels written from the point of view of “body men.”
In this novel, his is only one of twenty viewpoints (sigh) which means: this will be a fast read. But, let her assure you, since she has taken the trouble to read ahead (just by a few pages), let her assure you: the best is yet to come.
Self is crushing the reading list, this first month of 2023. Her next book is a Japanese crime novel, her first by Kaoru Takamura: Lady Joker, volume two, translated from the Japanese by Marie Iida and Allison Markin Powell.
Takamura is a crime novelist who is well-known in her native Japan. She has written thirteen novels, and has won the Japan Mystery and Suspense Grand Prize, the Naoki Prize, the Noma Literary Prize, the Yomiuri Prize, the Shinran Prize, the Jiro Orasagi Prize, the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, and the Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize. Her first novel to be translated into English was Lady Joker, which received the Mainichi Arts Award.
The first character to really catch self’s interest, 14 pages in, is Yuichiro Goda. Here’s how he’s described in the list of Dramatis Personae:
- MPD, First Investigation Division, Third Violent Crime Investigation Team, Seventh Unit. Later joins Criminal Investigation Division, Violent Crime Unit at Omori Police Department, Assistant Police Inspector
He’s been given the responsibility of guarding Kyosuke Shiroyama, President and CEO of Hinode Beer, who’s the target of an extortion attempt by the gang known as the Lady Joker.
- As far as Shiroyama could tell, however, under his apparent neutrality Goda’s eyes displayed subtle shades of darkness — wondering what that prudent gaze saw, three steps behind him, made Shiroyama feel, if not uncomfortable, then at least unsettled. From Goda’s outward appearance or manner, Shiroyama had no inkling whether he had seen Shiroyama pick up the envelope on his lawn the day before yesterday, that morning when they first met. Just this very morning, in the car on the way to the office, Shiroyama had tried to trick him into talking about it by musing why the criminals had not appeared, but Goda, with a momentary pause, merely replied, “I’ve been instructed only to act as your guard, sir.”
Ah! A laconic leading man. Nice!
“How is the chili?” Jim asked.
“Do you like chili?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Then you will hate the chili. Catfish or burger?”
“Do you like cheese?” Gertrude asked.
“Wise choice. And what about you?” she asked Ed.
Gertrude came back with the food.
“That was fast,” Ed said.
“Luckily we’d already caught the fish,” she said.
He lost that job when he fell asleep and drove his truck off the Tallahatchie Bridge. Not completely off, as the cab dangled over the Little Tallahatchie River for many hours before he was rescued.— The Trees, by Percival Everett