Book: Kinki Lullaby by Isaac Adamson

Pretty good or very good, depending

Isaac Adamson
Kinki Lullaby
HarperCollins, 2004
ISBN: 0-06-0516-24-0
358 pages

The "Kinki" in the title of Kinki Lullaby means approximately the same thing as "Kansai". It refers to an area of Japan a few hundred miles southwest of Tokyo which contains the old capital of Kyoto, the port city of Kobe, and the port and industrial city of Osaka. In fact, the book is set in Osaka. Perhaps "Osaka Lullaby" didn't have the desired ring.

The book is the fourth in Isaac Adamson's series of books about Billy Chaka, a reporter for the magazine Youth in Asia (pronounce it) which is, unaccountably, published in Cleveland. Billy is a likable, wisecracking guy and, as in the other books, events make him a reluctant detective.

(My opinions about the previous books in the series are here, here, and here.)

As the book starts, Billy has been informed that he has won an award given by the Kinki Foundation for an article he wrote about local theater some time ago. Billy doesn't want to go to accept it, but his former punk-girl sidekick who is now his editor tells him that he's going anyway.

But why would some foundation give him an award for a pretty trivial article he wrote eight years ago? The article was on bunraku, a kind of puppet theater, and was about Tetsuo Oyamada, then a boy of thirteen, who was something of a prodigy and had just been promoted to a remarkably important job (leg operator) for his age. Of course it turns out that Billy's award didn't come about for entirely objective reasons. The person who seems to have arranged for it turns out to be Tetsuo's father and he quickly takes Billy aside. It seems that Tetsuo's remarable progress in bunraku had continued, but that he has recently been forced to leave the company after an incident on tour, the details of which aren't entirely clear. Would Billy please do what he can to patch the situation up?

Billy is hardly eager, but the job doesn't sound worse than tedious. But then events take a (wait for it) sinister turn. Billy had joked with a fellow American in the elevator in his hotel and had stuck his conference nametag on the other guy saying, "Have a swell time being me" (p. 13). The other man is killed in his hotel room that night. Could it have been a case of mistaken identity? With that, Billy starts chasing a mystery that involves some colorful characters and some interesting parts of Osaka. If that sounds like a good premise for a novel to you, you're likely to like the book at least pretty well.

There are some surreal aspects to the book and some passages that are reminiscent of Haruki Murakami's novels. There are a lot of ways in which that's good, but there's also something of a problem, at least for me. The plot turns on some events that have a cause that's more than a bit surreal. I'd cheerfully accept that in a Murakami novel, but here, among the laughs and guns, it doesn't fit well with the atmosphere. If a reader found it jarring (as I do, a bit), they're likely to like the book pretty well. Someone who didn't find it jarring would probably like the book quite a lot.

The book is set in the typeface Cicero, which is a nice enough face, but not one that I'd use for a novel. The asymmetrical captial I is a bit distracting and I find the color a trifle uneven and some of the spacing imperfect at the size that's used.

Posted: Thu - February 23, 2006 at 08:24   Main   Category: