Thursday, December 21, 2017

Will Thomas, Old Scores
St. Martins/Minotaur Books © 2017 Will Thomas
ISBN 978-1-250-07796-7
Japan has sent a delegation (including an Ambassador, representatives of the army, navy, ministry of trade, and a cultural attach√©) to London; the year is 1890.  And, thirty-some years after U.S. warships forced Japan to open itself to the rest of the world, the ruling class in Japan wants to play a major role in the world—and not as a subordinate country to anyone, and especially not in Asia.  Cyrus Barker, a private inquiry agent, becomes involved because members of the delegation have asked to see his (recreation of a) Japanese garden.
That night, Barker has gone to the house which is being used by the Japanese as their embassy—and was outside when the Japanese ambassador was shot.  He has, or course, been arrested.  (His assistant, Thomas Llewellyn discovers this when he realizes Barker is not in his house and decides to look for him at the embassy; Llewellyn is also arrested.)
Subsequently, following their release, Barker is summoned to the embassy and is asked to investigate the murder of the ambassador.  Despite the inherent difficulties of this task, he accepts.  After a long series of twists and turns, involving two rivals in the Chinese community in London, the disappearance—and reappearance—of one of the ambassador’s bodyguards, and much more, Barker is able to uncover the source of the murder.  We do not, however, reach what can be called a happy ending.  Although it is actually remarkably well-suited to the situation and the persons involved.
This is the ninth book in the series, and all have been very good.  In some ways, this is not as strong an entry.  In part, this is because the author spends a good deal of time in the first half of the book providing us with substantial exposition about Japan.  The information is important, and useful as we move through the events, but the fact that it is essentially a data dump slows the narrative considerably.  But the second half of the book is extraordinary.  And along the way, we learn a good deal about Barker’s background, and everything we learn is germane.  So in saying it might not be as strong as the previous books, I am far from attempting to discourage you.  It seems to me that, as the series continues, what we have learned, and what the characters have experienced on this book, will be of ongoing importance.

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