Sunday, July 31, 2016

One "Thriller," Two Views: If You're Interested in Comparing Reviews of Nakamura's Latest Noir

Today's New York Times Book Review section is crammed with "thriller" reviews. I'm not convinced about the label -- some of the reviews in here are standard-genre mysteries, to my way of thinking -- but I surely enjoyed spending my Sunday morning browsing the opinions expressed, including a review by Lee Child (!). Fun idea for a summer surprise issue.

When I'm considering writing about a mystery, I almost never look at any reviews before I've written my own. And afterward, of course, I'm usually on my way to the next book, so there isn't time to compare. But I noticed this review by author Jan Stuart of Fuminori Nakamura's newest Japanese noir, The Kingdom, which I'd already reviewed back in early June, so I took time to think about the difference in review approaches.

Stuart focuses on summarizing the plot of the book but doesn't seem to much like it. (Look at the last line of that review, in particular: "Much like its alternately victimized and victimizing antiheroine, “The Kingdom” pins the reader in the cross hairs of bullets and bombast.")

I wasn't happy about reading Nakamura's work at first, and if it hadn't been brought to the American market by one of my favorite publishers, Soho Press, I probably would not have persevered. But with time, and having read several by now, I've decided that for me, Nakamura's fiction confronts global violence in necessary ways. The Gun is his most obvious effort at this, but The Kingdom also fingers personal violence, the kind that's manipulative and mean and even the verbal kind that we associate with bullies and sometimes politics.

Because I write "historically hinged" fiction myself, I read a lot of scholarly history -- and then enjoy diverting into really good historical fiction, where the action comes alive and the crises are emotional. In the same way, in an era when crime haunts all news channels and Presidential campaigns, it's a treat to dip into the emotionally potent storytelling of Nakamura's books. Count me in for the next one, too.

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