Showing posts with label Sujata Massey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sujata Massey. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Yes, Her Storytelling is Afloat

Taken from The Floating Girl blurb

...After a hostile takeover aided by a deceptively perky college intern, the Gaijin [Foreigner] Times has adopted a comic book format to attract more readers.  It falls upon Rei [Shimura] to write something glowing about the history of comic book art.  During a weekend of research and relaxation at her boyfriend Takeo's beachside house, Rei stumbles on an exquisitely drawn modern comic book that reveals the disturbing social milieu of pre-World War II Japan.

Rei's exhaustive search for the comic book's twenty-something creators leads to three college students.  When one of them turns up dead in a scene straight out of the comic, the art story turns into a murder investigation.  Rei finds herself floating through strip clubs, animation shops, and coffeehouses to get the true story--and to save her own skin.

I sigh with both contempt and elation.  The Floating Girl is the fourth book in the Rei Shimura mystery series, and I’m starting to notice a peculiar trend of loving every other book in the series between the four I've read at this point.  For some reason, I find myself disappointed in the lukewarm, watered-down offers between said other books.  However, first I should be clear in stating that The Floating Girl was a step better than the second book in the series, Zen Attitude.  Zen Attitude was so disappointing and tepid that I took a two-year hiatus from the series after stumbling my way through its rootless mystery.  Nevertheless, The Floating Girl was not the knockout that The Salaryman’s Wife [Book 1] and The Flower Master [Book 3] were.  In all respects, the problem came from the contriving events sprinkled throughout to encourage and push an already mushy mystery.  Mushy in the sense that there were too many structural threads dangling, trying to come together by force; furthermore, through the behaviors and actions of rather quasi secondary (or third) characters.  

One example of the above concerns took place in an ocean scene, within the coastal town of Hayama, Japan.  
At this point in the book Rei has theorized that the Japanese crime syndicate, known as the yakuza, who frequent a beach bar in the area, organized the book's murder.  However, having sly interviewed two individuals at the bar, she comes to the conclusion that both are unconnected to the yakuza or the murder.  She can't pilfer any information they don't own, after all.  So what does Rei decide to do next?  She decides to go for a swim to appear unpretentious to the curiously eying innocents to her cause.  That's right.  A swim.  Then this severely staged and cooked-up event happens...

Hayama ~
I coughed violently, whipping my head around so that I could search for swimmers near enough to call to for help.  Ten feet away were a couple of teenagers shooting each other with water guns.  They had been having so much fun, they'd missed the fact that I'd almost drowned.  I knew now that seaweed had not pulled me down--rather, it had been the curved rubber pipe of a snorkel.  Now that the job was done, the man calmly slipped his snorkel in the side of his mouth.

"How are you?" he asked conversationally.  It was like hearing someone talk with a cigar in his mouth.

"Fine," I replied automatically.  I looked at him.  He had flat, unhandsome features, narrow eyes, and chicken pox scar on his forehead.  He was balding.  This was no Kunio Takahashi, that was for sure.

He raised a hand over his eyes as a shield against the sun and looked straight at me.  His gaze was chilling.  "You asked the wrong fellows about business," he said.  "I can tell you what you need to know."

He really was yakuza.  Even though the hand over his eyes had all the fingers intact, I suddenly knew.  The fact that he still had his pinky finger meant that he hadn't been punished for making any mistakes.

I said, still spitting out some water, "I don't think so.  You're more interested in hurting me than helping me."

"I was simply trying to get your attention.  At the bar you didn't notice me."  The man spoke politely, with a faint accent from the Kansai region.  He sounded very different from the working-class joes I've mistaken for gangsters.

"You almost killed me," I said.

"No," he said.  "My superiors have no interest in harming you."

One: He did try to kill her.  Or at least you would think that's how high the stakes have gotten in her investigation.  Nevertheless, instead it was all just a ridiculous show to "get her attention."  Two: How awkward and forced this scene is!  Or is it really just me?  I don't care for the author's setup if it concludes to something so inorganic as a confrontation in the middle of the ocean with a fully gilled yakuza gangster who thought it better to toy with our sleuth instead of taking her head on.  So I guess what I'm trying to say is how do you go from interviewing potential suspects (who didn't know they were suspects), to taking a swim, to having some gangster submerged in the ocean watching you, who then attempts to drown you to "get your attention?"

Please help me out here!  

And there were plenty more of these contrive events.  One of them involves a randomly unnecessary army of motorcycle bousouzoku (Japanese for "reckless tribe") terrorizing Rei, but having no true purpose to the overall mystery other than delivering her lost address book.  They drove in on their bikes heightening the tension.  However, one of them simply threw a package; they drove out.  No conversation.  No nothing.  So what was in the package?  The address book Rei lost previously at the beach bar.

Please help me out here!  Please!  

Those are only two examples, which most likely attributed to the week and a half it took me to soak into the book and close it out.

However, let me share what I did like about this book--so enough of the unbelievable.  As always, Massey dishes out the details and dealings surrounding Japanese culture.  As mentioned in the blurb I shared, the theme of The Floating Girl is the Japanese youth subculture.  Apparently, that brief, awkward scene with the bousouzoku was meant to be an illustration of Japanese subculture.  Which was probably why it came across as a random injection of sorts and not a sound storytelling device.  Nonetheless, much of the subject of subculture in the book revolves around manga and anime; I glowed happily whenever Sailor Moon's name was mentioned.  The other half takes on Rei's constant struggle with owning her Japanese manners.  Being half-Japanese, she acknowledges what Japanese manners require, yet given the situation, she usually does the opposite.  This is always hilarious.  So if all else fails, I do enjoy Rei Shimura herself.  

So with all that said, I look forward to the fifth book in the series, The Bride's Kimono.  I think that overall I'm not going to find many mystery series taking place in Japan with a female sleuth of Japanese origin.  Nor a writer who likes the spread the knowledge.  Even if it sometimes come across through a spin of forced, graceless storytelling.     

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