Crime

MW by Osamu Tezuka

Date of Publication: Serialized 1976-1978 Biggu Komikku, Shogakkan (my edition: 2010, Vertical, Inc.)

Number of Pages: 582

Synopsis (from Amazon.com): During a boyhood excursion to one of the southern archipelagos near Okinawa, Yuki barely survived exposure to a poison gas stored at a foreign military facility. The leakage annihilated all of the island’s inhabitants but was promptly covered up by the authorities, leaving Yuki as an unacknowledged witness–one whose sense of right and wrong, however, the potent nerve agent managed to obliterate.

Now, fifteen years later, Yuki is a social climber of Balzacian proportions, infiltrating the worlds of finance and politics by day while brutally murdering children and women by night–perversely using his Kabuki-honed skills as a female impersonator to pass himself off as the women he’s killed. His drive, however, will not be satiated with a promotion here and a rape there. Michio Yuki has a far more ominous objective: obtaining MW, the ultimate weapon that spared his life but robbed him of all conscience.

There are only two men with any hope of stopping him: one, a brilliant public prosecutor who struggles to build a case against the psychopath; the other, a tormented Catholic priest, Iwao Garai, who shares Yuki’s past–and frequently his bed.

Review: Osamu Tezuka is often referred to as “the godfather of manga”, and his prolific career lasted decades and includes some very familiar titles, such as Astro Boy, Metropolis, and Black Jack. For the most part, his stories feature friendly and somewhat goofy characters, but MW is very different. The story is dark and disturbing, with no real hero to be found. But Tezuka manages to make even the psychotic and sadistic Yuki seem tragic and wronged, as if none of his crimes are his fault but are instead the result of events outside his control. At one point, I even found myself rooting for Yuki, as he struggled to find out who was responsible for covering up the MW leak.

Tezuka weaves many themes through his story and tackles difficult subjects: the involvement of the United States in Japan, the acceptability of homosexuality, and the pressures of the business world. For those unfamiliar with manga, MW is a great place to start as it tells a compelling story through Tezuka’s amazing artwork, deep character development, and even a delightful yet sinister twist at the end. Overall, it’s a great read!

Rating: 10/10

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Chosen to Die by Lisa Jackson

Date of Publication: 2009, Zebra Books

Number of Pages: 460

Synopsis (from back cover): Detective Regan Pescoli has worked the “Star Crossed Killer” case for months, never imagining she’s be captured by the madman she’s been hunting. Regan knows exactly what he’s capable of – an avoiding the same fate will take every drop of her courage and cunning.

Regan Pescoli is unlike any woman Nate Santana has met before. But now she’s missing, and Nate knows something is dangerously wrong. The only person who can help him find her is Detective Selena Alvarez, Regan’s partner. As Nate and Selena dig deeper into the Star-Crossed Killer case and the body count rises, the truth about Regan’s disappearance becomes chillingly clear.

In the desolate Montana woods, evil is lurking. And with time running out, the only way to save Regan will be to get inside a killer’s twisted mind and unravel a shocking message that is being revealed, one body at a time…

Review: The story starts out with a bang…literally. As Regan Pescoli is crossing the Bitterroot Mountains, heading toward her ex-husband’s house, her tires are skillfully shot out and she careens off the road. What follows is a frightening imprisonment in the lair of the Star-Crossed Killer. Regan’s disappearance completely takes the sheriff’s department by surprise, and those close to her – her lover, Nate, and her partner, Selena – struggle to unravel the cryptic messages left by the killer with each of his victims.

There was a lot I liked about this book. The pace of the action is excellent, and the small-town characters are vivid and entertaining. Lisa Jackson is able to tell her story not only through action and dialogue, but also through images. The starkness of the Montana winter is expertly described, and even though it’s currently the middle of summer, I found myself growing colder and colder as I read. I could picture each and every scene in my mind with ease, making it seem like I was watching a movie.

However, I did have a few issues with this book. Some of the characters who seem like they’re going to be a significant part of the story are never alluded to again. One example is Grace Perchant, a reclusive woman who talks to spirits. She comes to the police with her psychic intuitions about the killer, never to be mentioned again. The amount of attention that Jackson gives her early on in the story made me expect that Grace would become a central character. However, she’s barely mentioned again. Also, this is apparently the second book in the Star-Crossed Killer series, and some of the characters from the first book (Left to Die), show up again…but for readers, like me, who had not read the first book will remain confused as to their place in the story.

In the end, though, this book is a terrific thriller with plenty of action. The suspense is maintained extremely well, with no slow sections. I did find myself impatient for the conclusion, but that is just more proof of how well Lisa Jackson is able to draw her readers in. I’m definitely going to be reading more of Jackson’s books!

Rating: 8/10

Devil’s Cape by Rob Rogers

Date of Publication: 2008

Number of Pages: 380

Synopsis (from back cover): If New Orleans has earned its “Sin City” nickname for its debauchery, then its nearby sister Devil’s Cape has earned its “Pirate Town” moniker for the violence and blatant corruption that have marred the city since its founding. A city where corruption and heroism walk hand-in-hand, and justice and mercy are bought and paid-for in blood, Devil’s Cape is a city like no other.

Devil’s Cape blends the gritty Louisiana noir of James Lee Burke with the unforgettable characters and horror of Stephen King – all within a gripping story of superhuman heroes reminiscent of Alan Moor’s Watchmen or NBC’s mega-hit Heroes.

Review: This is the most unusual story I’ve ever read. This is an America that is different from the one in which we live; this is an America where superhumans battle supervillains, and the helpless citizens take it for granted that they live in a war zone. Devil’s Cape was a haven for pirates, and is now in the grips of ruthless mobsters and violent gangs. Superheroes have come and gone, but the supervillains have stuck around…for centuries. The story centers around three unlikely superheroes, from very different walks of life, people who had only wished to live normal lives until fate intervened.

The story starts out at a fast pace, going back thirty years, setting up the main characters and the history of Devil’s Cape. At first, I was a little put off by the nonchalance with which the superheroes are treated, making them seem like no big deal. They are indeed national heroes, but in this reality, superhuman powers are not that uncommon, whether acquired or inherited. Some superheroes are like Batman: they use technology and their own, normal, fighting abilities to fight crime. Others are born with these abilities, or they acquire them through some other means, like the curse of an angry Voodoo priestess or an unusual baptism ritual. Weaving through the science fiction atmosphere is a sense of the supernatural, making the heroes and villains themselves more complex and interesting.

Rob Rogers manages to make this story flow nicely, except for the somewhat inconsistent time flow. Sometimes the action goes back years, or sometimes just seconds. I understood the need for this technique, but it made the reading feel stilted at times. I enjoyed the book, but felt that the concept could have been ironed out a bit. The technical content was very well done, and the characters themselves, even some of the villains, were relateable. I recommend this book to any fan of contemporary fantasy or classic comic books.

Rating: 7.5/10