Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Hunter, by Asa Nonami

(hb; 1996, 2006: translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter. First book in the Detective Takako Otomichi Mystery series)

From the inside flap:

"When Takako Otomichi chooses the career of detective, her family disapproves and her male colleagues refuse to take her seriously, especially hard-bitten old gumshoe Sergeant Tamotsu Takizawa, her reluctant partner on the hunt for a mysterious murderer whose grisly trademark is to rip out the throats of his victims.

"The pair must put their differences aside as their search for the killer takes them into Tokyo's seedy underworld of drugs, nightclubs, and teenage prostitution, and to the terrifying realization that the murderer is some kind of wild animal on the loose in the city streets. Before long, Takako is hot on the trail of her dangerous yet highly intelligent prey in a hair-raising journey that will bring her face-to-face with the killer and face-to-face with herself."


I don't know if it's a translation issue -- no disrespect toward Carpenter's translating abilities -- or an inherent element of Nonami's writing, but the first quarter of The Hunter is an awkward, stilted affair. Perhaps it's appropriate, given how awkward and hostile Otomichi and Takizawa are towards each other, as they slowly learn to work together as partners.

This series set-up novel gets better in the second quarter, as Otomichi and Takizawa's personal details, as well as the plot, begin to gel. Both of the lead characters, as well as a couple of the background characters, are interesting. The plot, occasionally flashy and twistless, is police procedural-standard at best, aside from the case's two wild-card elements.

Nonami has crafted an uneven but attention-getting work: a series kick-off that, with its interesting lead characters and strange hook-elements, makes me curious about her next Takako Otomichi Mystery (if it gets published stateside). A second entry could easily improve upon the first, if The Hunter is any indication; Nonami has it in her to be a stand-out writer.

Check it out, just don't expect too much.

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