RARA-AVIS: REVIEW: Kinki Lullaby by Isaac Adamson

From: Maddy Van ( maddyvh@comcast.net)
Date: 18 Sep 2004

I don't know if the concept of this list includes posting reviews - if not, please let me know! I just couldn't resist sharing my latest nice noirish read.

KINKI LULLABY by Isaac Adamson Dark Alley October 2004

As a reader, I sometimes like to move away from the standard mystery settings and venture into exotic locales. When done well, the setting can almost become a character of its own that adds just as much to a book as the humans that populate its pages. Isaac Adamson does it very, very well in KINKI LULLABY, the fourth in the Billy Chaka series, all of which are set in different cities in Japan. KINKI (meaning Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and the surrounding areas) is mostly set in Osaka. What Adamson does is to immerse us not only in today's pop culture in that city but its past as well, bringing the reader fascinating information about the Bunraku puppets which originated hundreds of years ago. That magic combination of past and present leads to an extremely interesting reading experience.

Billy Chaka is a writer for an Asian teen magazine published in the US. Several years earlier, he had written an article about a Bunraku puppet prodigy by the name of Tetsuo Oyamada. Billy has been invited to Osaka to accept an award for that article. He finds the whole thing somewhat strange, but it begins to make sense when he finds that the award is being sponsored by Tetsuo's father, Daichi Oyamada, who needs Billy to find out some information for him. In Bunraku puppetry, it takes years to achieve mastery of the form. At 13, Tetsuo was the youngest performer ever given the honor of appearing as a leg operator at the prestigious National Bunraku Theater. He has been expelled from the troupe after an unexplained violent incident, after which he disappeared. Mr. Oyamada wants to know what happened and hopes to get his son reinstated into the theater.

Meanwhile, an American is killed at the hotel where Billy is staying and Billy finds a strange woman hiding in the stairwell. He begins to wonder if he was the target, as he had jokingly given the man his name tag shortly before the incident. Billy moves around in a dark world as he investigates the link between the Tetsuo situation and the homicide. It's almost as if he's living a modernist Bunraku play, with its strange twists and turns and ever more deviant and weird characters populating the pages, almost a series of hallucinations.

It's actually senseless to even attempt a plot summary of this book, as it is full of threads and sub-threads. I liken it to a Pachinko machine: all the balls are rolling around and clanging together haphazardly but ultimately, each falls into its place. You win the game by controlling the speed of the balls and directing them into special pockets which earn you a prize. Adamson definitely won the game with this book. His style of writing is very visual, and he keeps the adrenaline flowing throughout. Billy Chaka is a great character, and I loved the wit and energy of the book.

Maddy Van Hertbruggen Crime fiction reviewer for:
    - I Love a Mystery Newsletter: http://www.iloveamysterynewsletter.com/
    - Reviewing the Evidence: http://reviewingtheevidence.com/

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