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Note:  Kevin Barry was WINNER of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, 2007, for There Are Little Kingdoms;  WINNER of the Author’s Club First Novel Award, 2012, for City of Bohane; WINNER of the International IMPAC Dublin Award, the literary world’s biggest prize, in 2013 for City of Bohane; and WINNER of the Goldsmith’s Prize, 2015, for Beatlebone

“It is night in the old Spanish port of Algeciras….The ferry terminal has a haunted air, a sinister feeling.  It reeks of tired bodies, and dread.  There are scraps of frayed posters – the missing.  There are customs announcements – the narcotraficante.  A blind man roils in night sweat and clicks his teeth to sell lottery tickets like a fat, rattling serpent – he’s doing nothing for the place.  The Irishmen look out blithely at the faces that pass by in a blur of…distractions.” 

cover night boat tangierSitting at the Algeciras ferry terminal, waiting for a ferry to Tangier which currently has no specific time or date, Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond, from Cork, Ireland, await the arrival – or the departure – of Maurice’s daughter Dilly, about twenty-three whom they have not seen or heard from in more than three years.  In their early fifties now, the two men bear the scars of hard living.  Maurice’s left eye is “seared and dead, the other oddly bewitched, as though with an excess of life, for balance.”  He wears a shabby suit and a derby hat.  Charlie has a pronounced limp and “hot, adulterous eyes,” stomach trouble, bags “like graves beneath the eyes,” and “soul trouble.”  He is also wearing a well-worn suit, a tie, and a pair of “suede-finish creepers that whisper of brothels.”  When the police appear at the terminal, the men arrange their faces to avoid contact and wait for an announcement from the public address system, in a language which they cannot understand during a time in which there is trouble in Tangier, “and not for the first time.” As they wait, they reminisce about women, food, and their past lives at home, occasionally passing out hand-made flyers to others waiting there, showing Dilly and describing her as “a pretty girl with dreadlocks, and dogs, and she have pale green eyes.” 

author photoFor the first ten pages, Irish author Kevin Barry is clearly having great fun here, bringing to life these two Irishmen, as they relate their life stories in a uniquely Irish sentence structure, accent, and vocabulary, and convincing the reader from the outset that this story is going to be absorbing and truly memorable for the dialogue, characters, and author Kevin Barry’s writing style. The arrival at the terminal of a young English boy with his dog on a rope stirs Maurice and Charlie into action.   Though the English boy, Benny, obviously tries to avoid them, Maurice and Charlie accost him and refuse to let him escape, assuming he knows Dilly or someone else who might know her.  To impress Benny even further with their seriousness, they inform him of their “credentials”:  Maurice volunteers the fact that Charlie is “the only man I ever heard of who smuggled dope into Morocco; Charlie informs him that Maurice Hearne is a “fella who’s worked in the High Atlas trading goats for dope.”  Showing Benny a knife, they gradually get him to admit that he has talked to Dilly and that she is now making wooden “sun disks”  to wear as magical pendants around the neck.  This opening scene, which changes the reader’s impressions of Maurice and Charlie, ends inconclusively as two girls with dreadlocks, similar to the general description of Dilly, accompanied by a dog on a rope, enter the terminal.

Algeciras Ferry Terminal, where Maurice and Charlie look for Dilly.

Algeciras Ferry Terminal, where Maurice and Charlie look for Dilly.

Shifting back and forth in time and location, Barry constructs a story that keeps the action and the behavior of his characters in high gear, and he makes their lives easy to follow by carefully adding dates and place names to the ends of all the chapter headings so readers can compare contexts.  Chapter Two takes place in Malaga, twenty-five years earlier, as Maurice makes his first connections with “a woeful fat man from Birmingham…[as] his great, fleshy frame came to rest in a soft stack of complaint.”  He tries to convince Maurice to “get up right now and run a fast mile…and to “Have your life. Get a job of gainful. Make some bloody kiddies.”  Maurice is not deterred – he wants the success that this man represents. A “skanky” woman named Karima then takes him into the Malaga hills, shows him an apartment filled with graded Moroccan hash, and as a reminder of the seriousness of what Maurice is considering, then takes him to another apartment in which a blindfolded man is chained and gagged, moaning, and “slick with pain.”  Maurice meets the more naive Charlie the next day, and by that night, they both are “in.”

At this statue in Monument Plaza in Seville, Maurice mulls over Cynthia's ultimatum regarding women and drugs.

At this statue in Monument Plaza in Seville, Maurice mulls over Cynthia’s ultimatum regarding women and drugs.

Several chapters show Maurice after a few years in the “business,” when he is fearful for his wife Cynthia and Dilly, their three-year-old child, as he believes that they may have “climbed too quickly above [their] station.”  Charlie is already in hiding in the west of Cork, and for good reason.  On their most recent shipment they have made over a hundred thousand “pounds, Irish,” but they have also seen two enormous Spanish men in a van outside their house, watching.  As time passes, Maurice and Charlie continue in the “business,” investing their profits in other businesses, many of which are unsuccessful.  At this late date, however, they have little or no chance of changing “careers.” Times change, even in the narcotics business.  Hydroponic technology is now being used to grow product, which “means the end for the likes of you and me – We’re the Antiques Roadshow,” Maurice and Charlie conclude.

After walking in the Ummera Woods for much of the night n the longest night of the year, Maurice returns to his home with Cynthia to a dark surprise.

After walking in the Ummera Woods for much of the night on the longest night of the year, Maurice returns to his home with Cynthia to a dark surprise.

In keeping with the characters, the language is vulgar, but it also feels completely  “unscripted,” full of real life and feeling, however limited the characters may be in vocabulary.  Maurice and Charlie face all the personal and family issues that others face, and they have serious discussions of life and death and responsibility.  As early as the opening chapter they are talking about the “seven true distractions in life” – death, lust, love, sentimentality, grief, pain, and, lastly, avarice – not unlike the Seven Deadly Sins – and their wait in the terminal for Dilly resembles a scene from an ironic modern Purgatory.  The men are instinctive in their reactions, and, even with each other, they sometimes go too far.  Unlike his characters, however, Kevin Barry is in total control of every aspect of this novel from its imagery, description, and language (even in its vulgarity) to some of the best, most revealing, and enjoyable dialogue any reader could ever hope for.  The conclusion, featuring the sad insights Maurice and Charlie share after their long wait at the ferry terminal, is both moving and universal.  Kevin Barry does it all.

ALSO  by Barry:  BEATLEBONE.     CITY OF BOHANE,     DARK LIES THE ISLAND

The magical pendants which Dilly has reportedly been making of wood may have looked like this.

The magical pendants which Dilly has reportedly been making of wood may have looked like this.

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on https://www.dw.com

The Algericas Ferry Termimal, where Maurice and Charlie await the unsuspecting Dilly, is found on https://www.aferryfreight.ie

At the “hound statue” in Monument Plaza in Seville, Maurice mulls over Cynthia’s ultimatum regarding women and drugs.  https://www.alamy.com/

After walking in the Ummera Woods for much of the night on the longest night of the year, Maurice returns to his home with Cynthia to a dark surprise.  https://www.irishexaminer.com

The magical wooden pendants which Dilly is reported to have been making may have looked like this: https://i.pinimg.com/

NIGHT BOAT TO TANGIER
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Experimental, Literary, Social and Political Issues, Ireland, Spain
Written by: Kevin Barry
Published by: Doubleday
Date Published: 09/17/2019
ISBN: 9780385540315
Available in: Ebook Hardcover

Note:   “The third and final novel in the Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, became the most sold book in the United States in 2010…By March 2015, [the five-volume] Millenium series had sold 80 million copies worldwide.” –from Wikipedia.

“[Lisbeth Salander] had resolved to strike first, not wait like some cornered prey, and that was why she now found herself in Moscow… But she was paying a higher price than expected.  Not only because it brought back her past and kept her awake at night.  It was also the fact that her enemies were hiding behind smokescreens and impossible encryptions, and she had to spend hours covering her tracks.  She was living like a prisoner on the run.”

cover girl lived twiceWhen Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson died suddenly in 2004, he left behind three unpublished novels, referred to as the Millennium trilogy, featuring an investigative journalist, Mikael Blomqvist, and a sociopathic but exceedingly talented computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander.  Between 2005 and 2007, these three novels were published posthumously to world-wide acclaim and immense popularity, and in 2009, films were made of them beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The book series was continued after Larsson’s death by author/journalist David Lagercrantz, who wrote three more novels for the series in 2015, 2017, and now 2019.  Though Lagercrantz has kept much of the characterization of the two “stars,” Salander and Blomqvist, intact, Salander has become increasingly determined to lead her own life and to avenge many of the wrongs wreaked on her and her now deceased mother by her father and her twin sister Camilla.   Her relationship with Blomqvist, who is as protective of her as possible, considering her family background and personal history, has become less a part of her life as Salander has moved on, becoming – in her own mind, at least – more independent and more in charge of her life.

Author David Lagercrantz

Author David Lagercrantz

The Girl Who Lived Twice, released August 27, 2019, is the sixth novel in the continuing series, set primarily in and around Sweden.  Lagercranz and the publishers have been careful to provide as much background as necessary regarding the various continuing characters and secret organizations, even providing a list of them at the beginning of the book to remind the reader of names and roles.  Blomqvist is still working in Stockholm, while Lisbeth is in Moscow as the novel opens, pursuing her twin Camilla in Russia, where Camilla oversees a criminal enterprise involving the government and its hacking attempts.  Camilla despises Lisbeth and is determined to kill her for her murderous violence against her father and brother, both of whom had worked to kill Lisbeth.  To protect herself as much as possible from Camilla and her cohorts, Lisbeth has changed her appearance, wearing her hair shorter, removing her piercings, and covering some of the tattoos which still remain after an earlier removal.  She has lived a quiet life in Stockholm and has just sold her apartment, and she now lives in a hotel in Moscow, where she has set up computers and cameras to let her see anyone who comes or goes from her previous apartment in Stockholm or around her now.  Still, it is not long before she has to run for her life.  She leaves an encoded message for Blomqvist on his computer, and he responds.

Noomi Rapace as Lizbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Noomi Rapace as Lizbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The conjoined stories of Salander and Blomqvist are not the only action in this novel, or even the main action in this novel.  Starting with the Prologue, author Lagercrantz establishes a new direction, introducing a beggar, only five feet tall, who has been hanging out at the statue of Thor in Mariatorget, a man “with his head held high and his back always straight [who] looked like a chieftain who had fallen on hard times.”  Going on to describe him with his missing fingers and dark patches on his cheeks, the author admits that “there had been a time when people bowed before him,” though now he “carries the shadow of death.”  When he is later found dead, the medical examiner finds a scrap of paper in his pocket containing the name of Michael Blomqvist.  Before the beggar’s death, he had been shouting about Johannes Forsell, the Defense Minister, and though the beggar had been an alcoholic, he had not been on drugs.  The medical examiner, frustrated that the police in charge have done nothing about this death – an overdose – has come to Blomqvist, hoping that he might have more information.  Before long, Blomqvist is deeply involved in investigating and discovering more about the beggar, who was, in reality, Nima Rita, a Sherpa guide for treks up Mount Everest.

Climbing Mount Everest.

Climbing Mount Everest. Click to enlarge.

Part II focuses on “The Mountain People,” the Sherpas, and a trip up Mount Everest involving some important people in Stockholm and the government. While this is often fascinating, as are the physical and genetic aspects of the Sherpas which make them so much more effective on the mountain than other ethnic groups, the connection of all this to the overall cast of characters and their long, well-known enmities and histories over the past six novels is unclear.  As this plot is unfolding through flashbacks and memories, the original subplots are also continuing.  Lisbeth’s sister Camilla has returned to Stockholm from Russia with plans to kill Lisbeth, aided by her cohorts;  Lisbeth takes revenge on the husband of an abused woman with whom she is having an affair;  Blomqvist interrupts a a man’s suicide attempt and, in turn, faces his own death;  later Blomqvist is kidnapped.  A secret backstory of the Mt. Everest trek unfolds including tales of poison and possibly murder; and not one, but two, violent meetings occur between Lisbeth and Camilla.  The “action” consists primarily of specific scenes, with little to connect all of them into a unified whole, and much of the narrative is told to the reader or relayed through flashbacks, interviews, and emails, instead of being shown while it is taking place.

Michael Nyqvist, as Mikael Blomqvist in the films of the first three novels.

Michael Nyqvist, as Mikael Blomqvist in the films of the first three novels.

Stieg Larsson’s three novels and the four films made from those novels were released between 2005 and 2007, with the films being made in 2009, a decade ago, and readers and viewers, both domestic and international, were excited by both the characters and the narratives because they were so different creatively from previous Nordic Noir narratives.  Upon Larsson’s death, however, his estate went to his father and brother, and they are the ones who have continued the Larsson mystique by sponsoring David Lagercrantz to write the three most recent Millennium novels.  He has done his job, and his books have sold well.  After more than ten years during which the original creator of these characters has been gone, however, the reading population may have changed, and those readers and viewers of the original novels and films may find this novel as problematic as I did, despite its occasional excitements.  It will be interesting to see if the series continues beyond this point.  The last line of this book seems uncertain:  “It felt like it was time for something new.”

ALSO in the series: By Stieg Larsson:   THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO,   (Film of Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO),    THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE,    (Film review of Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE),    THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST   (Film review of Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST)

By David Lagercrantz:  THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB,    THE GIRL WHO TAKES AN EYE FOR AN EYE

Sherpa Guide on Mt. Everest.

Sherpa Guide on Mt. Everest.

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on https://headread.ee/

Noomi Rapace, the earliest version of Lisbeth Salander as she appeared in the film of The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo.   https://www.dailymail.co.uk

Climbers at the top of Mount Everest:  http://climbingthesevensummits.com/everest/

Mikael Blomqvist, as played by Michael Nyqvist in the early films.  https://tvtropes.org

Sherpa guide on Mt. Everest:  https://blog.alienadv.com/everest-sherpa/

THE GIRL WHO LIVED TWICE
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Mystery, Nordic Noir, Psychological study, Russia, Social and Political Issues, Sweden
Written by: David Lagercrantz
Published by: Knopf
Date Published: 08/27/2019
ISBN: 978-0451494344
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

“Did I want to live? my mum asked me when the cake was eaten.  Did I? Her eyes bored into mine.  I’m falling away, were the words that came to me.  Words spoken only as thoughts.  Repeated over and over again.  I’m falling away, I’m falling away from all that is living. And my sleep at nights.  As if I were crossing the sea on stilts. Striding high above the waters, the curve of the earth in front of my eyes.”

cover welcome to americaIn the most fervently psychological novel I have read in many years, Swedish author Linda Bostrom Knausgard tells the inner stories of an almost totally dysfunctional family in Stockholm.  An eleven-year-old girl who has stopped talking “a long time ago,” reveals that her mother and brother are now accustomed to her silence and that her father is dead.  School for this silent child is the equivalent of “walking into pitch darkness every day – [like] having to hold on to a handrail until it was time to go home.”  When she arrives at home, she finds her older brother inside his room with the door nailed shut.  Her actress mother has given her a notebook in which she can write if she wants to communicate something with her mother, but she has not used it.  “The notebook was a kind of consent.  She was accepting my silence…leaving me alone.”  The child admits that she stopped talking when growing began to “take up too much space inside me….Wish something of me, I could say.  But I could never make any wish come true. Not really.”

author photo

Linda Bostrom Knausgard

The child, who does not even share her name – Ellen – till well into the book, blames herself for her father’s death because she had “prayed out loud to God for him to die and he did,” concluding that “you should never ask for what you want.  It disturbs the order of things.”  For her, “The days and nights are the same.  The silence softens the edges so everything is like a kind of mist.”  Once she had friends, but no longer, and though she used to sing in the school choir, she now lives in silence.  She sits alone at lunch at school and no one speaks to her.  Her teacher was reduced to tears after Ellen’s silence lasted a week, but her mother insists to the teacher that “it” is something Ellen will outgrow and to let her be. In the meantime, Ellen is visited by the ghost of her father at night and is afraid of her brother, who keeps her imprisoned in the bathroom when he is bored with her, and makes her his slave when her mother is working.

The Royal Dramatic Theatre, where Ellen's mother studied acting.

The Royal Dramatic Theatre, where Ellen’s mother studied acting.

All these confessions occur in the first twenty or so pages of the book, at which point Ellen begins to broaden her background for the reader by recreating events from the past in the random order of her memories – the death of her father, her mother’s belated discovery that she herself has acting talent, her mother’s eventual schooling at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, her estranged father’s traumatic visits to their house and his death wishes, her brother’s girlfriend and the turmoil she creates, her parents’ divorce, her father’s decision to raise trotter horses on a remote farm which he cannot afford, the relief the whole family feels with her father’s death, but also her memories of visiting Grona Lund, an amusement park with her father sometime in the past.  Scenes swirl through past and present as the child recollects events and dreams and admits in several places that she no longer feels safe.  At no point does she get the help she so obviously needs from people qualified to offer it, and the whole family seems content to believe that things will improve on their own for Ellen as she grows up, always believing that they are “a family of light.”

On one occasion Ellen's father took her to the Grona Lund amusement park, not an event she enjoyed.

On one occasion Ellen’s father took her to the Grona Lund amusement park, not an event she enjoyed.

For those who love psychological novels, this novel offers many challenges and rewards, but others may become impatient at the fact that no one who could offer real help – her parents, her teachers, and acquaintances – seems to recognize the obvious need of some kind of professional intervention with this eleven-year-old child who is at the mercy of her memories and her fears.  Becoming mute for weeks or months is more than just a passing phase, and I became frustrated that no action was being taken by her mother or teachers.

In trying to figure out why the author chose to depict issues in this way, I did some research and learned that the author herself suffers from bipolar disorder, which was the subject of a radio documentary in Sweden which she herself produced in 2005, so she has a long history of self-analysis.  A poet, short story writer, and author of a previous novel, The Helios Disaster, before she wrote this book, she is the daughter of an actress, Ingrid Bostrom, and was married from 2007 – 2016 to famed author Karl Ove Knausgard with whom she has four children. Her former husband’s six-volume autobiography, written during their marriage, has been hugely successful throughout the world, but it has also been controversial for its full disclosure of relationships with real people and what some consider an invasion of privacy. 

The ferry from the amusement park back to Stockholm.

The ferry from the amusement park back to Stockholm.

Of this book, Linda Bostrom Knausgard herself says on the book jacket, “Silence, or not speaking, is a theme I recognize from my own childhood.  To speak and then suddenly not speak – I’ve experienced that.  As a child I fantasized about not speaking when I was angry at my mother: ‘I won’t say a word, not a word!’  But I didn’t have the strength that Ellen in the book has.  I held out two or three days at most, and it felt good.  But then life carried on.  After I coined the phrase ‘It’s a long time already since I stopped talking,’ the story just fell into place.”

Intense and revelatory of the many fears and nightmares which can hide behind the silence – real or symbolic – in the mind of a pre-teen, Knausgard reminds readers that silence does not mean acceptance or passivity, that real drama may be unfolding behind the mask that hides the pain.  While outside specialists and teachers had little or no chance to meet Ellen’s emotional needs, the author seems to offer some encouragement that families who care about each other do have the ability to see beyond immediate issues and eventually to deal with their problems on the family level.  Whether or not they can heal themselves, long-term, without help, is not answered here, and “Welcome to America,” shouted by Ellen’s psychotic father late in life as he confronts roaring traffic, remains meaningless.

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on http://www.lzypnh.co/

The Royal Dramatic Theatre, where Ellen’s mother attended classes, is from https://www.123rf.com

Ellen’s father took her to Grona Lund amusement park, on one occasion, an experience she did not enjoy.  https://www.tripadvisor.es

The ferry from Grona Lund back to the center of the city is shown on http://tiowoo.trusbu.se/

 

WELCOME TO AMERICA
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Coming-of-age, Literary, Psychological study, Sweden
Written by: Linda Bostrom Knausgard
Published by: World Editions
Date Published: 09/03/2019
ISBN: 978-1642860412
Available in: Ebook Paperback

Why was he always in this situation, waiting for something to happen?   This must be what ‘living’ was all about.  While he was working at Tokyo Ad, it had actually been more a kind of death: a daily grind in an over-lit, ridiculously modern office where…[no one ever] got their hands dirty… Most likely, those colleagues would think it oddly contradictory now to discover Hanio, who had determined to die, sipping brandy and looking forward to the future.”

cover life for saleLife and death dominate much of the writing of prolific Japanese author Yukio Mishima (1925 – 1970),   the author of more than thirty novels, approximately fifty plays, twenty-five books of short stories, and six films, all of them written before he turned forty-five.  Yet though he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1968, before his famous Sea of Fertility tetralogy of historical novels was even finished, he is far better remembered, at least in western countries, for the nature of his death, rather than for the vibrant novels he wrote during his life.  The son of a conservative family, Yukio Mishima was always dedicated to Japan’s ancient samurai traditions, and his early death was by ritual suicide when he and three friends single-handedly tried and failed to bring about a coup at the Japan Self-Defense Headquarters in Tokyo on November 25, 1970.  They had hoped to restore the emperor to the power which he had lost twenty-five years earlier when Japan was forced to surrender at the end of World War II.  Details of Mishima’s ritual suicide, including his self-disembowelment and his botched beheading by his assistants, remain to this day the primary images of Mishima for many westerners who know his  name but are unfamiliar with his writing.

imagesFor Mishima, Japan’s past plays a major role in his best work, widely considered to be his Sea of Fertility tetralogy (Spring Snow,   Runaway Horses,  The Temple of Dawn,  and The Decay of the Angel), published in Japan between 1965 and 1970.  Here he follows one man, a young law student in his twenties in 1912 until his late years in the 1970s, when he is a retired judge.  His best friend, during this time, appears in successive reincarnations in the three later novels, which provide a vibrant picture of Japan, its people, and its culture from the beginning of World War I through World War II and its aftermath.  Mishima, however, did not limit himself to the kind of literary fiction which these novels embody.  His novel Star (1961) is the romantic story of a film star, a subject Mishima knew well from his own experience in film and stage.  Life for Sale, written in 1968, and just published in the US for the first time, is considered “pulp fiction,” though it is so well written that it feels less like pulp and more like a dark satire about a man without a real purpose, perhaps displaying some of the issues with which Mishima himself had to deal and which led to his own premature death.

"death hung over him, snugly, the way snow caps a red postbox after a particularly heavy snowfall.”

“Death hung over him, snugly, the way snow caps a red postbox after a particularly heavy snowfall.”

Life for Sale opens with main character Hanio in the hospital recovering from an overdose of a sedative, assumed to be intentional, though “He was not suffering as the result of some romantic breakup…Nor did he have any serious financial problems.”  He had been working as a copywriter for an advertising company and had no thoughts of suicide until he dropped a piece of newspaper.  When he stooped to pick it up, a cockroach had landed on top of it, and “Suddenly, all the letters he was trying to make out turned into cockroaches…as they made their escape, their disgustingly tiny dark-red backs in full view.”  He concludes, grimly, that “the world boils down to nothing more than this.” From that moment on, “death hung over him, snugly, the way snow caps a red postbox after a particularly heavy snowfall.”  Since his suicide attempt was a failure, he decides to resign from his job and use his substantial severance pay to do whatever he wants in what remains of his lifetime.  

The mobster who is having an affair with an old man's wife resembles a manga character which the wife enjoys.

The mobster who is having an affair with an old man’s wife resembles a character from the manga books which the wife enjoys.

Returning to his apartment, he places a note on his front door:  “Hanio Yamada – Life for Sale.”  What follows is a series of adventures, as five different characters come to his door to hire him to work on projects so dangerous that Hanio could die while workinig.  Since there are five successive “sales,” it is obvious that something unexpected happens each time Hanio is hired, and it is these bizarre twists which make the episodes intriguing.  His first customer, a well-dressed man in his seventies, comes to his apartment and describes his “magnificent” wife, now age twenty-three, confessing that she has left him and is now “shacked up” with a mobster, “but not your ordinary, run-of-the mill mobster.”  This one resembles a character from the manga stories his wife adores, and he has already “knocked off” a couple of people in turf wars.  The old man wants the mobster dead – and his wife, too. The second episode involves a woman who steals a rare library book describing a genus of Japanese beetle which can be ground and used as a powder to hypnotize a victim and make a death look like suicide.  She wants to test the effects of this scarab beetle and wants Hanio to be the test case.

A sketch by Tsuguharu Fugita was sold by a young boy to get money to hire Hanio.

A sketch by Tsuguharu Fujita was sold by a young boy to get money to hire Hanio.

A small boy figures in the third story, one which may bring smiles even as it becomes a horror story.  Young Kaoru has taken and sold a valuable family sketch by Tsuguharu Fujita to get the money needed to hire Hanio.  The boy’s mother, he says, is a vampire, and she is dying now from lack of nourishment.  The boy hires Hanio to keep his mother alive.   Episode #4 features an ambassador whose wife has an emerald necklace stolen at an official dinner.  The necklace contains a secret code, and several officials have died as a result of the enmity between two involved countries.  Poisoned carrots play a role, and once again, Hanio escapes.  “To say that human life had no meaning was the easy part, [and] Hanio was struck all over again by the huge amount of energy required to live a life filled with so much meaninglessness.”  The final story links all the others thematically and answers some of the final questions.  A young woman is wrongly convinced that she has a fatal illness, and Hanio finds himself being tracked as he deals with her and eventually, the police.

It is tempting to “see into” some of these episodes to imagine some of the issues which the author himself may have been facing in his own life, but the overall feeling here is one of clever trickery, rather than horror, with Mishima’s literary skill surviving even the accusation that this is “pulp” fiction.  His lighter touch here allows him to deal with life and death in a less serious fashion than in his great works, and the excitement he generates makes the book feel satiric and more fun to read, despite its occasional gore.

ALSO reviewed here:  SPRING SNOW #1,     RUNAWAY HORSES #2 ,      TEMPLE OF DAWN #3,       STAR

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on https://www.wallofcelebrities.com/

The red post box is from https://instaphenomenons.me

The mobster who is having an affair with an old man’s wife resembles a character in one of her manga favorites.  https://en.wikipedia.org/

Young Kaoru sells a sketch by famed Japanese artist Tsuguharu Fujita to pay for the services of Hanio in helping his mother regain her strength.  https://www.allpainter.com/

LIFE FOR SALE
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Literary, Satire, Psychological, Social and Political Issues,
Written by: Yukio Mishima
Published by: Penguin Classics
Date Published: 08/01/2019
ISBN: 978-0241333143
Available in: Paperback

“I’ve always warned clients that the criminal justice system doesn’t calibrate well.  It’s like a seventies-model Snapper Comet mower – you have three basic blade settings and that’s it.  We can handle fistfights, killings, shootings, knife scrapes, larcenies, heterosexual divorces, boundary line disputes and drug sales, the same old same old, but a well-done hustle as rare and layered as this will usually overwhelm a creaky contraption built by bewigged rustics who’d never heard of penicillin and would ooh and aah at a lightbulb.” – Kevin Moore, disgraced lawyer.

cover substitution orderAuthor Martin Clark, while working for twenty-seven years as a Virginia circuit court judge, somehow managed, at the same time, to write four highly successful novels.  His debut from 2000, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, was a New York Times Notable Book for the year and a Book-of-the-Month-Club Selection.  Plain Heathen Mischief, in 2004, introduced me to this author, and I was thrilled when its successor, The Legal Limit, in 2008, was on the Washington Post list for Best Book of the Year, and was winner of the Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award for Fiction.  The Jezebel Remedy in 2015, led Entertainment Weekly to declare that “Clark is, hands-down, our finest legal thriller writer.”   Few full-time writers can come come close to duplicating this kind success, both with readers and with literary critics, and now Martin Clark has officially retired as a judge.  Still living in the countryside, on the border between Virginia and North Carolina, where he sets The Substitution Order, there is no telling where he will go with future novels or how many he will write, now that he has more time.

Author Martin Clark, former circuit court judge in Virginia for twenty-seven years, now retired.

Though all his books have an analytical approach to right and wrong, The Substitution Order is the most “legalistic” of his novels so far, a novel which focuses on a brilliant lawyer who, for three months of his life, lost control, made some terrible choices, and now must pay the penalty.  Through flashbacks, author Martin Clark brings disgraced lawyer Kevin Moore fully to life. Now living in a small, unincorporated community in rural Patrick County, near the North Carolina border, Kevin has fully recovered from a three-month addiction to cocaine and alcohol and has stayed clean, though he is disbarred.  With some court appearances still left in his own case, he works as manager of SUBstitution, a roadside sandwich shop.  There he is approached one day by a well-groomed out-of-towner who calls himself “Caleb,”  claiming to represent Melanie Culp, one of Kevin’s former clients during his brief “addiction period.”  Melanie, Caleb says, is suing Kevin for five million dollars, claiming malpractice because he did not advise her to exercise an option for some undeveloped land.  A real estate development company later bought and resold that land for six million dollars, more than five times the original price.  Melanie wants the money she would have gained if he had bothered to tell her to exercise her option on that land. 

Meadows of Dan, an unincorporated community in Patrick County, VA, where the action takes place.

Meadows of Dan, an unincorporated community in Patrick County, VA, where the action takes place.

Kevin denies any knowledge of such a land option, and suspecting a scam, he continues to question Caleb, who openly admits that he actually controls both companies involved in the eventual land sale, and that his ownership is “hidden behind layers of perfectly legal and impenetrable paperwork.”  He even admits, with a degree of pride, that “pigs get fat, [only] hogs get slaughtered,” and that he and his group keep their dollar amounts low enough to avoid investigations by insurance companies and monitoring groups.  They often use an offshore holding company and work to avoid any overlaps among shell companies and participants.  They pay taxes and include legitimate transactions in their finances, as well.  A few relatively “small” scams –  under five million dollars – funneled through their offshore companies, draw less attention than bigger ones by greedier people. They want the compromised Kevin to work with them.  He refuses.  They insist. 

Patrick County Courthouse

Patrick County Courthouse

From this relatively abrupt beginning, author Martin Clark begins the slow, inexorable deterioration of Kevin Moore, as disaster after disaster piles up. Though Kevin is convincing in his insistence that he is telling the truth and is willing to pay for his past mistakes, no one believes him – and with reason. The very real, provable evidence against him on just about every score is overwhelming.  Even a check of the SUBstitution’s security cameras show they were somehow “powered off” during his confrontation with Caleb, so there is no record even of that conversation. His drug tests are questionable, his marriage is in trouble, his finances are reduced to practically nil, and he is facing jail time.  Then two new charges are brought against him.  Believing many of his problems involve the collusion of people hiding in the bureaucracies with which he has had to deal over the years, Kevin takes on the world himself.  His inherent kindness keeps his closest friends wanting to believe and to help him, but even many of them begin to tire of his claim of innocence in the face of the overwhelming evidence.

Nelson - mostly white, with a bit of brown, and blue eyes - the hound Kevin rescued from a trash bin and who keeps him sane.

A dog similar to Nelson, the hound Kevin rescued from a trash bin and who keeps him sane.

Author Martin Clark’s characters live and breathe, and even if a reader becomes a bit confused by some of the legal issues in this novel – or stops to question how all these charges against him could possibly be false – s/he will root for Kevin Moore’s success throughout, despite the odds.  Several subordinate characters inspire the same feelings of loyalty.  Blaine Richardson, a twenty-year-old from a poor family, works at SUBstitution to save money for college, selling weed on the side very quietly.  Kevin helps him from the last of his savings, and Blaine, a genius with computers and math, helps Kevin, in turn.   Melvin Harrell, the wealthiest man in Patrick County, lets Kevin stay at his house as a caretaker while he is away, and goes so far as to build a pen for Nelson, Kevin’s recent rescue dog.  Even Kevin’s best friend from college and law school plays a role here.  The vibrant characters, their desire to help Kevin, and author Martin Clark’s own desire to tell a story about people dealing with reality and the law make the complexities of Kevin’s own legal case more understandable and intriguing for non-lawyers.  The conclusion, which comes in the last few pages of this complex novel, will stun the reader and resolve many issues.  Martin Clark has done it again.

ALSO by Martin Clark:  THE LEGAL LIMIT and    PLAIN HEATHEN MISCHIEF (Posted on another website in 2004)

The Mabry Mill, in Meadows of Dan, a serene scene which belies the tumult in Kevin Moore's life.

The Mabry Mill, in Meadows of Dan, a serene location which belies the tumult in Kevin Moore’s life.

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on https://hackneylibrary.wordpress.com

Meadows of Dan, where the action takes place, is an unincorporated community on the Virginia/North Carolina border, the area where the author himself lives.  http://www.poorfarmersmarket.biz/

The Patrick County Courthouse, where Kevin presented cases before his disbarment:  https://commons.wikimedia.org

Kevin’s rescue dog may have been similar to this American bulldog mixed breed puppy – white with brown patch and blue eyes.  https://www.dreamstime.com/

Mabry Mill in Meadows of Dan, a serene sight in the midst of tumult.  https://www.tripadvisor.com

THE SUBSTITUTION ORDER
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Literary, Mystery, Psychological study, Social and Political Issues, US Regional, Legal
Written by: Martin Clark
Published by: Knopf
Date Published: 07/09/2019
ISBN: 978-0525656326
Available in: Ebook Hardcover

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