Friday, 30 March 2012

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry

In literature, a murder scene is often likened to a picture puzzle.  If one is patient and keeps trying, eventually all the pieces will fit into place.  Veteran policemen know otherwise.  A much better analogy would be two picture puzzles, or three, or more, no one of which is in itself complete.  Even after a solution emerges - if one does - there will be leftover pieces, evidence that just doesn't fit.  And some pieces will always be missing. - Vincent Bugliosi.

To read a true crime story, I believe one has to approach it with a clean slate, in other words, you must have no prior knowledge of it, period.  I am doing just that.  I want to approach it like a novice.  I want to see for myself how the events unfolded.  I want to form my own opinions and my own observations.  I want to ask my own questions.  Nevertheless, my intuition tells me that the story of the Charles Manson murders is not an easy one to decipher let alone comprehend.  It is dubbed "the most infamous and chilling mass murder case in the annals of American crime".  A cold-blooded case that is infused with cultism and satanistic rituals.  This is the first I have heard or read about it.  It is not pretty.  One can only wonder at the barbaric nature of a select few human beings and wonder why.

On 9 August 1969, seven people were found shot, stabbed and bludgeoned to death in Los Angeles.

On 18 November 1969, Deputy district attorney Vincent Bugliosi is assigned the (Sharon) Tate case and the related homicides of supermarket owner Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary.  For months, Bugliosi collects and sifts through the grisly evidence, listens to the chilling testimony of murderers and accomplices.  Slowly, he puts the puzzle pieces together - and emerges with a complete and horrifying picture of the man who ordered the killings, the girls and young men who carried them out, the motive for the seemingly incomprehensible crimes.

Helter Skelter (1974) became a bestseller and subsequently won a 1975 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.  It also became the basis for two television films released in 1976 and 2004 by CBS.  Helter Skelter was originally the title of a song by The Beatles which the killer (Manson) interpreted as a term associated with war and prophesied for an apocalyptic race war between the blacks and the whites.

If you are interested in true crime, trials and convictions, I would recommend any Vincent Bugliosi book.  His writing is detailed, precise, comprehensive, justified and analytical.  You cannot ask better than that of a book.

About the authors:

Vincent Bugliosi, American attorney and author, is a two-time winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award in the best true crime book of the year category for his No 1 New York Times bestsellers, Helter Skelter (1974) and Till Death Do Us Part (1978).  In his career at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, he successfully prosecuted 105 out of 106 felony jury trials and his most famous trial was the Charles Manson case, which became the basis of his bestselling book Helter Skelter (1974).  He lives with his wife in Los Angeles.

Curt Gentry, co-author, was born in 1931 and is an American writer.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

No Going Back by Matt Hilton

I had been apprehensive about how Hilton would deliver in book seven of the Joe Hunter series after six exhilarating novels - one of which was shortlisted for the International Thriller Writers' Debut Thriller of 2009 Award - but when I read the book jacket of No Going Back (2012), I had no qualms it wouldn't be a disappointment.  I have always loved missing persons stories and this one is set in the Arizona desert.

It reads like a typical Western cowboy movie with practically the whole book dealing with rescuing the abductees and avenging the baddies, particularly one who is abnormally hard to put down.  At times, it feels long drawn out especially towards the end of the book but as is typical with Hilton, there is never a moment where the action is let-up.

This story also touches on a rare condition known as congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP) where there is an inability to feel physical pain for those who have this disorder.  I have yet to miss a Joe Hunter book and highly recommend the Joe Hunter series for non-stop vigilante action for that is who Joe Hunter is, a vigilante.  Could book eight (Rules of Honour) be in the works next year?  Watch this space.

From the hardback:  Two young women on a road trip to California.  But nothing has been heard from Jay and Nicole for three days - their last contact a phone call to Jay's father from New Mexico.

The cops aren't worried:  three days is hardly an eternity.  But Jameson Walker is not taking any chances and hires Joe Hunter to find his little girl.

The Arizona desert is badlands country and the friends have fallen foul of a sadistic bunch of men who are as brutal as their surroundings.

But Joe is on their trail and he'll do anything to free the women.  Even if it means dying, there'll be no going back.

Do visit for more information and for his stand-alones.

A Review of No Going Back.

Rating:  4/5

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Sins Of The Father by Jeffrey Archer (Videos)

The long awaited book is finally out.  The Sins of the Father (15 March 2012) is the second book in the Clifton Chronicles series.

From the hardcover blurb:  New York, 1939.  Tom Bradshaw is arrested for first degree murder.  He stands accused o killing his brother.  When Sefton Jelks, a top Manhattan lawyer, offers his services for nothing, penniless Tom has little choice but to accept his assurance of a lighter sentence.  After Tom is tried, found guilty and sentenced, Jelks disappears, and the only way for him to prove his innocence would be to reveal his true identity - something that he has sworn never to do in order to protect the woman he loves.

Meanwhile, the young woman in question travels to New York, leaving their son behind in England, having decided she'll do whatever it takes to find the man she was to marry - unwilling to believe that he died at sea.  The only proof she has is a letter.  A letter that has remained unopened on a mantelpiece in Bristol for over a year.

Jeffrey Archer tells us what it is about in these five-part videos:

Jeffrey Archer, whose novels and short stories include Kane and Abel, A Prisoner of Birth and Cat O'Nine Tales, has topped the bestseller lists around the world, with sales of over 270 million copies.

He is the only author to have been a number one bestseller in fiction (fifteen times), short stories (four times) and non-fiction (The Prison Diaries).

The author is married with two sons and lives in London and Cambridge.  For more information, visit

Rating:  5/5

Next Of Kin by David Hosp

Next of Kin is an excellent read and a vast improvement from the first one, Dark Harbour (2005), which I must say I struggled through but at the same time, felt that there was something about the author's idea of the book which I needed to tap into further.  I am not disappointed.  Hosp can write and he can write a convincing story.  Apart from being an excellently plotted legal thriller, Next of Kin also "explores the issue of negative biological connections and the ways in which fundamental family bonds and instincts are hugely influential to how we live our lives, even those bonds to parents who disowned and neglected their children in ways that ruined their children's lives" - (Richard and Judy).  I highly recommend this series.

Paperback blurb:  When Boston attorney Scott Finn agrees to defend the son of notorious mobster Eamonn McDougal, he knows he's putting his reputation on the line.  But he also knows he can use him as bait to reel in the prize catch.

In a city where mob crime once ruled, a core of corruption, greed, lies and deceit still lingers.  And it seems there are those in power who will stop at nothing to achieve what they want.

Finn, who grew up an orphan on the meanest streets in the city, is determined to solve the murder of the mother he never knew.  In his search for the truth he uncovers a sinister trail of murder, betrayal and revenge left by someone who could neither forgive nor forget.

But who can be trusted, and who can be believed?

And can Finn find the answers before it's too late?

About the author:  David Hosp is a trial lawyer who has spent a portion of his time working pro bono on behalf of wrongly convicted individuals.  He finds time to write his novels on his daily commute by boat across Boston Harbour.  He lives with his wife and family outside the city.

Next of Kin is the fourth book in the Scott Finn series published in 2011.

Richard and Judy talks to David Hosp:

Rating:  4/5

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Refuge from the Miseries of Life

Phantom by Jo Nesbo (Video)

A revealing video by Jo Nesbo:

September 2011 - Harry Hole is back in Oslo from Hong Kong.  He's been away for some time but his ghosts have a way of catching up with him.  The case that brings him back is already closed because there is no room for doubt:  the young junkie was shot dead by a fellow addict and the murder has been solved.  Denied permission to reopen the investigation, Harry strikes out on his own.  Beneath Oslo's eerie tranquility, he discovers a trail of violence and mysterious disappearances seemingly unnoticed by the police but at every turn Harry is faced with a conspiracy of silence.  Harry is not the only one who is interested in the case.  From the moment he steps off the plane, someone is watching his every move and tracing his every call.  The police don't want him back.  The criminals don't want him back.  Someone definitely wants him silenced.  (from the hardback)

Phantom (2012) is the ninth book in the Harry Hole series and the seventh translated from the Norwegian into the English.

About Jo Nesbo:  He is a musician, songwriter, economist and prize-winning author.  His first crime novel featuring Harry Hole was published in Norway in 1997 and was an instant hit and since then, his bestselling Harry Hole series has been a huge success in the UK and across the world.  Visit for more information.

About Don Bartlett:  He lives in Norfolk and works as a freelance translator of Scandinavian literature. He has translated, or co-translated, Norwegian novels by Lars Saabye Christensen, Roy Jacobsen, Ingvar Ambjornsen, Kjell Ola Dahl, Gunnar Staalesen and Pernille Rygg.

Rating:  7/5

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of the World's Most Mysterious Continent by Gabrielle Walker

A window into what I am currently reading:

What is the book about? (from the hardback)

Antarctica is at first sight the most alien place on Earth, the only part of our planet where humans have never been able to live.  And yet in its silence, its agelessness and the sublime beauty of its landscapes lie the secrets of our past, and of our future.

In Antarctica (1 March 2012) Gabrielle Walker weaves an amazing story of many threads into an intricate tapestry made up of natural history, poetry, science, exploration and epic adventure.

She describes what it feels like to be there in sub-zero temperatures, contemplating the achievements of Amundsen and Scott, Mawson and Shackleton, staring in wonder at the Southern Lights or zipping across the snow on a skidoo - she made five trips between 1999 and 2008 - and why it draws so many different kinds of people back there, again and again.

Delighting equally in the science, the wildlife, the people who run the bases, and above all the sheer wonder of the place, she paints a revealing portrait of the most mysterious of Earth's continents:  the valley of meteorites;  the South Pole astronomers staring through a unique window in space to the origins of the Universe;  waterfalls that run uphill;  and ice cores that hold our planet's climate history in tiny bubbles of ancient air.

There have been many books about Antarctica in the last hundred years, but where most have previously focused on one aspect of the continent, none until now has managed to capture the whole extraordinary story.

The book is divided into three parts:  Part 1 - East Antarctica Coast, Part 2 - The High Plateau and Part 3 - West Antarctica.  Suggestions for further reading at the back of the hardback contains a good medley of books on Antarctica which would suit every appetite.  I would recommend this book for all first-time readers on this most enigmatic continent of Antarctica.

A review by The Telegraph (15 March 2012)

Who is the author?

Gabrielle Walker has a PhD in natural sciences from Cambridge University and has taught at both Cambridge and Princeton universities.  She is Chief Scientist of strategic advisory firm Xynteo, a consultant to New Scientist, contributes frequently to BBC radio and writes for many newspapers and magazines.  In 2009 and 2011 respectively she presented the Planet Earth Under Threat series and Thin Air for BBC Radio 4, and in 2011 she presented The Secret Life of Ice for BBC4.  She lives in London.  Other books under her belt are Snowball Earth (2003), An Ocean of Air (2007), The Hot Topic (with Sir David King) (2008).

Saturday, 17 March 2012

And The Sea Will Tell (True Crime) by Vincent Bugliosi with Bruce B Henderson

Have you ever heard or read of this grisly true story of murder on an atoll located in the Pacific Ocean of all places?  If so, you are ahead of me.  If not, neither have I, until today.  On my part, it is hardly surprising as the murder occurred way back in 1974 when I was only a wee bairn.

I picked up this book for three reasons:  first, I have heard that Bugliosi is a Master at putting pen to paper and also an eloquent orator to boot.  Second, I want to read Bugliosi's meticulous and detailed account and arguments on the events surrounding the murder.  Thirdly, I am curious as to what happened on that "ghost-type island" nearly forty years ago.

When I come to the end of the page, I cannot shake the thought that the prosecutors and defense could only rely on the testimonies of the only two people concerned (Buck Walker and Jennifer Jenkins) in the murder case to prove the facts that what they were alleging were true.  Apart from various witnesses who could merely vouch for them, no one, apart from Mr Walker and Miss Jenkins, were on the island with the two victims.  Walker and Jenkins knew exactly what took place on that mystery-shrouded atoll in the Pacific Ocean in 1974 or at least one of them knew.  Without them confessing and I do not see that ever happening, this is what the theft and murder trials had boiled down to - their word.  

I would recommend this book to all crime enthusiasts, if only to get a deeper insight into America's criminal jurisprudence and Bugliosi's probing and extensive analysis, whether you concur with him or otherwise, of an utterly complex and alarming true crime story.  I am glad I read it.

And The Sea Will Tell, a New York Times No 1 hardcover bestseller, was published in 1991.

What is the story?

(a riveting opening from the book)  Palmyra Island:  At once beautiful and forbidding, this uninhabited tropical atoll is off the well-traveled path of the trade winds.  Situated dead center in the Pacific Ocean, Palmyra was discovered by accident only in the nineteenth century.  If one were to search the high seas for a setting that would lend itself to impenetrable mystery, this lonely outpost would not disappoint.

From afar, Palmyra is seductive:  tall coconut trees and stretches of beach are enveloped by a coral reef and the brilliant shallows of the tropical ocean.

Once ashore, however, one finds that the vegetation that looks so lush and inviting from a distance is impassable except with a machete.  Hordes of land crabs claim squatter's rights to much of the island.  The beaches are not sandy, but rocky, and surrounded by coral as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel, capable of shredding the ribs of the sturdiest vessel.  Only a narrow passage in the reef on the south-western side allows access to a lagoon populated by schools of colourful fish, temptingly meaty but poisonous to eat.  And it doesn't take long to notice in the crystalline waters the menacing gray shadows of nature's most perfect eating machines.  Sharks.  There is, finally, no escape from the blazing sun and stifling humidity.

Only the most adventuresome, or desperate, would plan an extended stay here.  This is the true story of two men and two women who did.  One married couple, two lovers.  Four lives forever changed on an island that never wanted company.  Each of the visitors sought escape from the world, but for very different reasons, their destinies intersecting on this deserted atoll.  Not all of them would leave alive.  The mystery shrouding their fate would be as dark and chilling as the ocean floor deep beneath Palmyra Island.

About the authors:  

Vincent Bugliosi, American attorney and author, is a two-time winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Award in the best true crime book of the year category for his No 1 New York Times bestsellers, Helter Skelter (1974) and Till Death Do Us Part (1978).  In his career at the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office, he successfully prosecuted 105 out of 106 felony jury trials and his most famous trial was the Charles Manson case, which became the basis of his bestselling book Helter Skelter (1974).  He lives with his wife in Los Angeles.

Bruce Henderson is the author and coauthor of more than twenty nonfiction works including True North (2005) and Fatal North (2001).  He is a member of the Authors Guild and American Society of Journalists and Authors.  He lives in northern California.  For more information on the author and his other works, go to

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep

Why Can't?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Scones & Bones (A Tea Shop Mystery) by Laura Childs

(from the paperback) Indigo Tea Shop owner Theodosia Browning is lured into attending the Heritage Society's Pirates and Plunder show by her master tea blender.  Amid the gold earrings and doubloons, an antique skull cup with a huge diamond steals the show - and gets plundered by someone who murders a history intern in the process.

Even with that on her plate, Theodosia still has to attend Charleston's Food and Wine Festival, where she's hosting a tea and cheese tasting - the latest culinary trend.  But as her thoughts keep drifting to the victim, Theodosia knows she'll have to whet her investigative skills to find the killer among a raft of suspects...

Includes delicious recipes, tea time tips and tea resources!

Scones & Bones (2011) is the twelfth book in the Tea Shop mystery series.  The latest one, Agony of the Leaves (6 March 2012), is available now.  For more information, check out

Rating:  3/5

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Devil's Food Cake Murder (A Hannah Swensen Mystery series) by Joanne Fluke

(from the paperback) These days, everyone in Lake Eden, Minnesota is buzzing with activity, and Hannah Swensen is no exception.  But no matter how busy she may be, Hannah can always find time to help a friend in need - especially when he's been murdered...

Hannah Swensen has to admit that her life is pretty sweet.  Things are going well in the romance department, and her bakery's delectable confections are selling almost as fast as she can bake them.  Even her good friend Claire is on Cloud Nine, head over heels with her new husband, Reverend Bob Knudson.  If only they could find time to take their honeymoon!

When Bob's childhood friend, Matthew Walters, comes to town, it seems like divine intervention.  Matthew, like Bob, is a Lutheran minister with a stubborn sweet tooth.  Since he's on sabbatical, Matthew is happy to fill in for Bob while he and Claire take that long-awaited honeymoon.  It sounds like the perfect plan - until Hannah finds Matthew in the rectory, face-down in a plate of Devil's Food Cake, a single bullet in his head.

Determined to find out who killed Matthew, Hannah starts asking questions - and discovers that the good reverend wasn't quite the saintly fellow he appeared to be.

But could the gold Sacagawea coins in Sunday's collection plate hold the key to solving the crime?  Or is the murder connected to that big jewel heist out in Minneapolis?  Is it possible that Matthew's love of chocolate somehow led to his downfall?

It will take some more digging to find out, but Hannah is sure of one thing:  even the most half-baked murder plot can be oh so deadly...

Devil's Food Cake Murder (2011) is the fifteenth book in the Hannah Swensen Mystery series.  The sixteenth in the series and also the latest, Cinnamon Roll Murder (28 February 2012), is available now.  Visit the author's website at for more tidbits.  I read this electronic book priced at £3.56 (from Amazon) on my Kindle.

Watch Joanne Fluke talking about Hannah and friends and her mouth-watering recipes:

Rating:  3/5

My Destiny

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Apple Turnover Murder (A Hannah Swensen Mystery with Recipes) by Joanne Fluke

Early summer brings plenty of work for baker Hannah Swensen, even before Mayor Bascomb's wife drops by The Cookie Jar to place an order for her charity even...for eleven-hundred cookies!  And Hannah almost flips when her business partner, Lisa, suggests setting up an apple turnover stand.  But she places her faith in Lisa and agrees to be a magician's assistant in the fundraiser's talent show...

The only snag is the show's host, college professor Bradford Ramsey.  Hannah and her sister, Michelle, each had unfortunate romances with Ramsey, and when the cad comes sniffing around between acts, Hannah tells him off.  But when the curtain doesn't go up, she discovers Ramsey backstage - dead, with a turnover in his hand.  Now Hannah must find a killer who's flakier than puff pastry - and far more dangerous... (paperback blurb)

Apple Turnover Murder (2010) is the fourteenth book in the Hannah Swensen Mystery series.  True to form, it contains over ten cookie and dessert recipes like Mocha Nut Butterballs and Wacky Cake, enough to make my mouth water when reading.  It is good to come back to one of my favourite cosy mysteries and have some good wholesome fun with Hannah and friends after a long hiatus.  The dreaded purple dress rears its ugly head twice in this series - what did Hannah do to warrant that?  Do visit Joanne Fluke's cookie-biting website on for more information.  

Rating:  3/5

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Murder in Brentwood by Mark Fuhrman

So far, I have read a couple of true crime books based on the actual murders, the investigations and the trials but this book - Murder in Brentwood (1997) - is a totally different kettle of fish.  For one thing, it is written by a former LAPD detective specifically to tell his side of the story.  Why?

As you know, Mark Fuhrman is the most pivotal witness of the OJ Simpson trial.  As he takes to the witness stand, he is accused of perjury and subsequently sentenced to three years formal probation and a monetary fine.  His good name has been vilified, defamed and ridiculed and he is forced into early retirement.  Unjustifiably, he became a convicted felon.

Why is a witness who was called to give testimony prosecuted for perjury?  What relevance has it to the Simpson murder trial?  Is he used as an underdog and if so, why?  How can one justify almost destroying an innocent man's life knowing that the charges to his name were not relevant at all to the Simpson murder case?  There is nothing wrong with Fuhrman's criminal investigation on the infamous murder.  There is no evidence that Fuhrman had given any false testimony about his investigative work.

It is inevitable that questions will be asked and perhaps these questions are better answered by reading the book and then deciding for yourself, for there are thousands upon thousands of biased and unbiased opinions and accounts out there.  Once the murder trial starts and you read more into it, you will become more and more puzzled by the proceedings.  Why?

In my opinion, it is because the whole trial is a farce and a waste of time for both the defense and the prosecution and other parties involved.  Most questionings and arguments are totally unnecessary because they have nothing to do with the brutal murder of two young people.  Important evidence are completely ignored and not used or mishandled.  Important witnesses are not called to the stand.  There seems to be a lot of infighting among the parties from the top to the bottom rung and the trial is more about the meeting of egos than the meting out of justice to the person who had so violently taken two lives.  As Vincent Bugliosi (American attorney and author) said, "Throughout the trial, the sad irony was that the defense attorneys seemed to be fighting harder for injustice than the prosecutors were fighting for justice."

There are more than a few versions of the Simpson murder trial told by various people but I have chosen to read one from a cop's point of view.  If it is his way to defend and restore his reputation and also redeem his mistakes, so what?  Everyone deserves a voice.  Everyone deserves to be heard.  Nobody deserves to be so outrageously victimized and denounced especially not a veteran cop who simply told what he saw and was only doing his job.

Murder in Brentwood is a well-documented and well-researched book as befits a good cop and very well-written.  It was a New York Times No 1 bestseller.  I wish Mark Fuhrman all the best.  A highly recommended read.

Former LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman talks to Oprah on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2010 in these snippets.  This is Fuhrman's second and last interview with Oprah, the first being in 1997:

First Video
Second Video
Third Video

Other books by Mark Fuhrman, now an author and radio host, are

1)  Murder in Greenwich:  Who Killed Martha Moxley? (1998)
2)  Murder in Spokane:  Catching A Serial Killer (2001)
3)  Death and Justice:  An Expose of Oklahoma's Death Machine (2003)
4)  Silent Witness:  The Untold Story of Terri Schiavo's Death (2005)
5)  A Simple Act of Murder:  November 22, 1963 (2006)
6)  The Murder Business:  How The Media Turns Crime Into Entertainment And Subverts Justice (2009)

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Dark Harbour by David Hosp

Hardback:  August 2006.  The disembowelled body of a young woman is fished out of Boston harbour.  The distinctive mutilations to the corpse bear all the hallmarks of the killer they call Little Jack.

But unlike the six previous victims, Natalie Caldwell was no prostitute.  She was a once-beautiful, ambitious and highflying lawyer.  As the last person to have seen her alive, Scott Finn, her colleague and ex-lover, comes under intense scrutiny in the ongoing police investigation.

With Natalie's death, Finn also inherits the high-profile assignment she was working on.  The case, involving a terrorist train bombing, could clinch his career.

But the more Finn uncovers about Tannery vs Huron Security, the murkier it all appears.  And, as he learns more abou the circumstances surrounding Natalie's murder, Finn begins to harbour a dark suspicion.  Was his former colleague the random victim of a merciless psychopath?  Or could the case she was working on have some connection with her death?

Meanwhile, the city of Boston is being terrorised by a serial killer as devious as he is deranged.  And Finn begins to fear for his own survival.

Dark Harbour (2005), the first book in the Scott Finn series, succeeds in subverting the reader's expectations at every fresh turn of the constantly twisting plot.  It was a Barry Award nominee for Best First Novel.  Other books in the series are Innocence (2007), Among Thieves (2010), and Next of Kin (2011).  In a nutshell, David Hosp is a partner in one of Boston's largest and oldest law firms.  He currently lives in Boston with his wife and their children.

Rating:  3/5

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

Which is harder:  devising an unsolvable problem or, solving that problem? - Chapter Eight

The story opens on an ordinary domestic scene which very rapidly escalates into a murder scene.  The reader will be told how and why the murder occurred and who the murderers were right at the beginning of the book but it is the unfurling of the investigation and the interaction of the characters that is what makes this book worth a read.  The story can be equated to a mathematical problem which needs to be worked out step-by-step.

Yasuko Hanaoka lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child, Misato.  But when her abusive ex-husband appears at her door without warning one evening, her comfortable world is shattered.  When Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police tries to piece together the events of that night, he finds himself confronted by the most puzzling, mysterious circumstances he has ever investigated.  Nothing quite makes sense, and it will take a genius to understand the genius behind this particular crime...  (paperback blurb)

Briefly, Keigo Higashino was born in Osaka in 1958.  He started writing novels while still working as an engineer and won the Edogawa Rampo Prize for his debut novel at age 27.  In 2006, The Devotion of Suspect X won the 134th Naoki Prize and also the 6th Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize.  This year, it has been nominated for the Edgar Awards for Best Novel.  It is dubbed one of the biggest-selling Japanese thrillers ever, selling over 2 million copies in Japan, and has been made into a cult film.  Its blend of an intelligent and atmospheric story, evocative Tokyo setting, human psyche and relationships, Japanese philosophy, perverse love and utterly ingenius ending makes it a must-read for anyone interested in international crime fiction.  Since 2009, the author has been the president of the Mystery Writers of Japan.  His other books (not all are available in the UK yet) which have been translated into the English are

1)  Naoko (2004)
2)  Malice (2009)
3)  Salvation of a Saint (2012) - release date:  2 October 2012

In Japan, The Devotion of Suspect X is the third book in the Detective Galileo series and apart from this little nugget, I have no other information on the other books in the series.  I have enjoyed reading this thought-provoking Japanese police procedural and highly recommend it.

Alexander O Smith and Elye J Alexander from Kajiya Productions Inc have done an excellent job translating the text from the Japanese into the English.

The trailer is enough to convince you to read the book:

Rating:  5/5

Friday, 2 March 2012

People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief And A Journey Into Japan's Shadows by Richard Lloyd Parry

I ventured into Waterstone's for a browse earlier this week and came across this book which tells of the mystifying disappearance of British woman Lucie Blackman in Japan nearly twelve years ago.  I remember it making headlines in all the newspapers back then but as usual, did not follow the case too closely.  What compelled me to pick up the book is the title.  The title - People Who Eat Darkness - suggests a strong connotation to/with evil and unthinkable violence, period.  It cannot be more apt a title than this as one cannot comprehend such a horrible crime to have happened to a normal middle-class woman who had travelled far from home at the young age of 21 to work and experience the vibrant cultural life in Japan but had ended up dead in an exotic land, a mere fifty-nine days after she had first set foot on Tokyo soil.

There were of course questions.  Questions that remained unclarified.  Questions such as, had Lucie been abducted by a religious cult?  Who was the mysterious man she had gone to meet?  What did her work, as a 'hostess' in the notorious Roppongi district of Tokyo, really involve?  And could Lucie's fate be linked to the disappearance of another girl some ten years earlier? - (taken from the paperback).

When you start reading through the book, you will find that the old saying "nothing is what it seems" fits like a glove.  You will find that Lucie Blackman's life in Japan is far more complex than one originally thinks.  You will find a much bigger story about the times we are living in now than just the case of a missing woman.  You will find it a disturbing story yet very much thought-provoking.  You will ask yourself a lot of questions you would not normally ask had you not read the book.  I would only recommend this book to readers only because it is a masterpiece of journalistic writing; other than that and in some aspects, some things are better left unread.

The Guardian wrote, "...  This isn't just a tale of murder, but a book that sheds light on Japan, on families, on media, on the insidious effects of misogyny...  Parry is the best kind of narrator...he tells it with such clarity and compassion..."

According to Literary Review, "...(it is also) about the depravity of man, the difficult pursuit of justice and how we deal with the wrongful deaths of those whom we loved...  There is a moral to this tale.  But it is up to readers to determine for themselves just what that moral really is".

According to the author, the story was so puzzling and evasive that it took him ten years to carry out his research and document his investigation including travelling to four continents and working undercover as a barman in a strip club where Lucie Blackman used to work.  Finally, his journalistic efforts to reveal the truth about Lucie and her fate resulted in the publication of this book in February of last year (2011).  His toil paid off as well when in April 2011, People Who Eat Darkness was placed on the longlist for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize in the non-fiction category.

Who is the author?  Briefly, he is the Asia Editor of The Times, and has lived in Tokyo since 1995.  He has reported from twenty-seven countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea.  His other book is In the Time of Madness:  Indonesia on the Edge of Chaos (2005) which was shortlisted for a Dolman Best Travel Book Award in 2006.

Here, the author reads and talks about his book at the Temple University in Japan:

and a documentary on The Lucie Blackman murder: