A page-turner with a misleading name



By Barry Lancet. (New York: Simon & Schuster, $16 pp., $25, 2013, hardcover)

Jim Brodie juggles his life between taking care of his precocious 6-year-old daughter and managing both his late-father’s Brodie Security P.I. agency in Tokyo and his own antique shop in San Francisco, a self-described bull who owns a China shop.

Barry Lancet has fabricated a fast-paced story that takes Brodie, along with the power players of San Francisco and Tokyo, on an intense psychological and adrenaline-pumping nine days. A family of five is gunned down on Buchanan Street in San Francisco’s Japantown. The killer leaves no trace aside from an enigmatic kanji that no one could read, and Brodie, being an expert in Japanese art and as the heir to his father’s legacy, is tasked by the San Francisco police to solve the crime.

Lancet’s writing is tight and everything falls into place as he pieces together an elaborate story involving an errant Japanese tycoon, gruff detectives, sociopathic assassins and the shadow leaders of Japan.

Lancet uses his 25 years of experience in publishing books on Japanese culture and martial arts in Tokyo, to illustrates Japan respectfully.

Whereas Japanese culture and Japan are carefully researched and interwoven into the story, Lancet unfortunately falls short on the novel’s namesake. While about half of the book is set in the city by the bay, the research for San Francisco and Japantown falls short.

In the first page of the novel, Lancet depicts “gangbangers” in a red-Mazda Miata, a dated — if not stereotyped — scene of Post and Fillmore Streets.

Whereas Lancet might illustrate a restoration process for a tea bowl in detail, he would describe the Buchanan Mall with “(t)wo rest areas provided benches and sculpture,” ignoring some of the historical significance in those sculpture fountains. The killer had likely come from an unlit walkway between a Japanese restaurant and a kimono shop, an erasure of the neighborhood’s Korean American and Pacific Islander community to reinforce a Japanese image. Lancet has the physical description of Japantown down, but it has no soul.

In reality, while Japantown’s residents and regulars wonder what Lancet has written about their ethnic enclave, the setting appears as more of a hood-ornament rather than a real setting. In “Japantown,” the neighborhood only serves as the scene of the crime and nothing more.

Japantown serves as a set piece to reinforce the Japanese-ness of the murder, ignoring the difference between Japantown’s cultural context of being both a Japanese American neighborhood as much as it is Japanese. The victims were Japanese from Tokyo.

Their killers are Japanese.  Japantown is merely a backdrop with a torii gate to lend an Asian flare to the story’s catalyst.

Nevermind the fact that a white person is in Japan solving a Japanese murder, Lancet could have done more research on the people and cultural characteristics of the neighborhood.

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