Freshening Up a Detective Series at LAT; Praising TOKYO VICE at the B&N Review

In an act of serendipity, both of my crime fiction columns appeared online on the same day. At the LA Times, my newest “Dark Passages” column looks at how authors try to freshen up a detective series – most recently Marcia Muller, who’s taken a rather audacious step with her newest Sharon McCone novel, LOCKED IN: 

When “Locked In” (Grand Central: 282 pp., $24.99) opens, it’s “a

typical July night in San Francisco. Mist swirling off the bay, a

foghorn bellowing every thirty seconds out at the Golden Gate.”

McCone’s on her way back to the office to retrieve a cellphone, a

three-block trip from where her car ran out of gas. And then typical

becomes atypical when she’s shot in the head: The next thing she knows

she’s in the hospital, able to understand every word and every gesture

without reciprocating in kind, a victim of “Locked-in” syndrome: “[N]ow

a fragmented bullet was lodged near her brain stem, doing more harm

than all the criminals and aeronautical malfunctions could. A deadly

little piece of metal, that none of her smarts and guts could combat.”

So it would seem, at least: How on earth will Muller write her way out of this brazen predicament she’s placed McCone into?

Obviously, Muller does, and in doing so injects her series with some added verve.

Meanwhile, at the Barnes & Noble Review, my newest “Criminalist” piece centers around a non-fiction account of criminal doings abroad. TOKYO VICE by Jake Adelstein, an American reporter working the police beat in Japan, is an amazing book on its own and reflective of a culture that has produced some very strange and wonderful fiction, as I explain in the piece’s opener:

Contemporary Japanese crime novelists explore violent territory that

Americans, even with their love of serial killings and on- and

off-screen horror, would be loath to touch. The 1999 novel Battle Royale

by Koushun Takami, as controversial as it was in Japan for its

depiction of youthful brutality, might never have seen the light of day

here had it originated from an American writer, especially as its

initial publication came about around the same time as the Columbine

school shootings. Women writers based here certainly do go deep into

the heart of the gruesome (Chelsea Cain and Karin Slaughter are the

most recent examples), but Natsuo Kirino’s Out, coolly

brilliant in its portrayal of four desperate women resorting to the

dismemberment (and beyond) of a dead man formerly viewed as a threat,

barrels straight through every limit of tolerance.

The fearlessness of Japanese crime writers (not to mention the violence pervading a great deal of the manga

published there) owes something to the news they find at hand, despite

the fact that the rate of violent acts in Japan pales next to that in

America. Consider the case of Issei Sagawa, who murdered and ate parts

of a fellow student while studying abroad in the early 1980s. Upon

returning home, Sagawa was declared not responsible for his crimes and

never served time in jail – instead, improbably, he became something of

a celebrity, and now has several books to his name. A series of child

murders that terrorized Tokyo in the late 1980s turned out to be the

horrible handiwork of a psychopathic teenager. Violent crime may be

rare, but when it does happen, it explodes with the force of multiple

powder kegs.

Read on for the rest, and an extended Q&A with Adelstein will also appear soon at the Review, and when it does, I’ll link here.