Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver

This is a very early example of the courtroom drama.  Since the original publication of this book in 1958, the genre has blossomed.  Reading this book was a lot like watching the old Perry Mason re-runs.  It was not an easy read, nor was it a quick one, but it was rewarding to read through to the last page.

Travers takes on a case in which the accused murdered a barkeep in front of witnesses and immediately confessed to a deputy.  Paul Biegler, one of two defense lawyers in small town Michigan accepts the case.  The story then unfolds in two parts: the investigation and the trial.

The investigation helped establish our characters as real people.  The trial helped to show the inner workings of the American judicial system of the time.  As Paul and his partner talked to people involved in the case, the reader was able to decide who was liked and who was in the wrong.  During the trial, the procedure was front and center.  It may have been a little drudgery, but for the most part, it was intricately detailed and informative for those who have never (and likely never will) encounter this process.

One of  the key parts of this case is a brutal rape.  The 1950s handling of this situation was tame to a current day reader.  Rape is never palatable, but the straightforward handling of the details was almost refreshing for it’s lack of shock factor.

This book was  made into a movie starring Jimmy Stewart.  I have never seen it, but may look into getting my eyes on it.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

Published in the 1980s, set in the 1970s about a murder that took place in the 1930s.  Translated by Ross and Shika MacKenzie in the 2000s.  This book covered quite  a bit of time.

I saw this at the library and was intrigued by the concept of a Japanese mystery.  I am a sucker for translated works and I do love a good mystery.  I am frequently curious about what books, music, and movies are popular in other countries.  I forget how American-centric I am.  Finding gems like this one, helps remind me of the global scene.

The mystery in this book was well done.  I enjoyed playing along with the sleuths as they examined a 40 year old mystery.  I learned a new word reading the note from the publisher: “honkaku”.  This is a Japanese term for an orthodox mystery.  It tells a straightforward mystery without the psychological components.  There is no attempt to trick the reader.  Quite the opposite, the reader is encouraged and challenged to figure out the solution before it is given to them.

This new edition included a fair amount of information about the book.  This author was referred to as the Arthur Conan Doyle of Japan.  I can understand the comparison.  Throughout the book there were references to Sherlock Holmes the character.  There were also several similarities between the characters in this book and the great Holmes and Watson (but none of the cocaine.)

A note from the publisher at the end of the book, suggested they would be releasing future translations of crime fiction from France, Sweden, and Taiwan.  Yes, please.

I will be watching for further titles by both this publisher (Pushkin Vertigo) and this author.  As well as keeping my eyes peeled for other honkaku books from Japan.

The Drowned World

I am glad I read the edition of The Drowned World with an introduction by Martin Amis.  I found Amis’s essay about the book and how it fit into history enlightening.  The idea of prescience in literature is not new, but it was a fresh concept for me.

The Drowned World is one horrific view of a world destroyed by man’s negligence.  Of course, the world isn’t destroyed, but man’s ability to continue living there is drastically impaired.  As always, nature adapts in amazing ways.

This was a short book about an Earth that no longer has cities, in which most of the land has been swallowed by water and the temperature is ever-rising.  Fifty some years ago, this was probably not a common idea.  With the rise of Global Warming and other environmental concerns addressed by the media every day, the idea of water encroaching our own habitat is less far-flung.

There was some excellent imagery throughout the novel, but one that struck me was: “So his descent into the phantasmagoric forest continued, the rain sweeping relentlessly across his face and shoulders.  Sometimes it would stop abruptly, and clouds of steam filled the intervals between the trees hanging over the waterlogged floor like diaphanous fleeces, only dispersing when the downpour resumed.” (p. 192)  I could easily imagine taking this walk with Kerans as he escapes.

This is certainly not a character study and many of the characters could have been fleshed out into a longer novel.  Instead, this was a cautionary tale and a reminder to me that the idea of rising water levels is not new.

Watchmen by Alan Moore

Late last year, I read my first graphic novel, My Favorite Thing is Monsters, vol. 1. It was nothing like I expected. This illustrated journal of a young girl in 1960s Chicago was surprisingly and compulsively readable. I am anxiously awaiting volume 2.
This experience made me more receptive to reading an earlier graphic novel, Watchmen by Alan Moore. Watchmen was much closer to my expectations: a group of superheroes fighting the evils of the world and discovering their own fallibility and humanity in the process. While reading, I was reminded over and over of the Disney Movie The Incredibles, a naptime favorite of both my nieces. The masked crusaders have been disbanded, but are called back into service when someone starts killing their own.
Watchmen is an example of why I don’t gravitate to graphic novels, it is very violent and the illustrations often make this violence more, well, graphic. I have never been a comic book person, I prefer my stories to come through creative uses of language and the written word. I am not sorry to have read this and I will continue to anticipate volume 2 of My Favorite Thing is Monsters, but I will not be actively seeking out further graphic novels to add to my list.