Tag Archives: Amazon

A Japanese WHY Dunnit and an Amazon Mystery

Destination: Japan

Book: Malice by Keigo Higashino, Shown: MacMillan Audio Book CD, Published in U.S. October, 2014; in Japan in 1996

Kego Higashino, an Edgar award winner, and super-star mystery writer in Japan, writes books that are complex intellectual puzzles with unusual structure. Readers of A Traveler’s Library –lovers of books and writing–will particularly relate to this mystery, because it involves two writers and hinges on  complexities of writing and publishing.


Amazon decided to present me with more mysteries when I tried to find the Amazon page for the MacMillan Audio edition of Malice. In fact, they nearly make the CD audio book disappear.

If you are a consumer of audio books on CD , you need to know how to solve the shopping mystery that Amazon presents you with.  Since Amazon now has their own audio book program–Audible–their index of books leads with their own Kindle edition, followed by the hardback and paperback versions, then Audible. Not so incidentally, (you might think “with malice”) that leaves no space for the audio books on CD. The largest producer of audio book CDs– MacMillan Audiobooks– must be rather unhappy with this treatment.

When you go to the book’s page, you’ll see the list mentioned above and then a “see other versions” link, as though the CD versions rank right up there with the used books sold by outside vendors. This is certainly a not-so-subtle ploy for Amazon to direct audio book customers to their own Audible version.  If you prefer the digital audio book to play on some electronic device rather than a CD, you won’t even notice. But if you want a CD, and aren’t looking carefully, you may be led to assume that there is no CD for the particular book.

So–either be sure to click the “other versions” link, or start your search by typing in the book title plus Audio CD. (i.e. Malice Audio CD) You’ll find it in Books, rather than in CDs, by the way.


That little mystery out of the way, lets move on to the Japanese mystery, the twelfth in a series of Detective Kaga mysteries. (However few if any of this series have been translated into English in the U.S.)  A little-known writer of children’s books visits a friend who is a famous novelist who has assisted him in his career. In the detailed account he writes out for the police later, the little-known writer, Osamu Nonoguchi says he received a phone call from the novelist, Kunihiko Hidaka, but when he returned to the house all is dark and eventually he found his friend dead.


In a departure from familiar mystery format, we know  the WHO and HOW very early. Despite his initial pretense of being extremely helpful to the police by writing his thoughts out,  in very short order, Nonoguchi confesses to the murder. The rest of the book shows a detective, Kyochiro Kaga, looking for WHY (motive) by painstakingly searching through every detail of the confessed murderer’s life. Kaga becomes a forensic psychologist, thoroughly dissecting the psyche of murderer and murdered.

The structure of the book–always looking back at the past lives of the characters to try to find out what happened the night of the murder–means long stretches of monologue by Nonoguchi or by Kaga.  This makes the book a challenge to those who like intellectual puzzles, but a barrier to those who want action.

Many of the things I said about a previous book by Higashino apply to this one as well. You can read my review of Salvation of a Saint (released in the U.S. in 2012). In that book, we also know the killer quite early, but the question is HOW.

About the pace, I said,

…to a person used to the crowded and busy plot of an American thriller or police procedural, the novel seems as repetitive and sometimes as dull as actual police work instead of the action on steroids that we’re used to.

Also, you may have been thinking about all those names like Nonoguchi and Hidaka and Kaga and wondering how you could keep them straight if you were listening to an audio book. (My spell checker is having seizures dealing with the unfamiliar names.)  I found that the author once again (as in Salvation of a Saint) uses enough repetition to help keep the names of at least the major characters straight.  And although the reader is not the same as the earlier CD, Jeff Woodman does an excellent job of presenting a wide array of voices for both men and women.  I particularly admired his work when the detective began to interview people from the school days of the two writers. It seemed he somehow found a way to differentiate a dozen characters.


peach blossoms
Peach blossoms

Is this a book for travelers? It shows you the real, contemporary Japan–which seems very much like life in America.  As I said in my former review:

The characters are … people who could be… listening to the same popular music as in the United States or Britain. So if you are looking for some exotic life form, these are not kimono-wearing women tittering behind coy fans. Instead, you get a taste of real life in present day Japan.

In Malice, we have some Cherry Trees and drinking of tea and a mention of a trip to Okinawa and another reference to a Japanese martial arts class –but not much else in the way of the images we imagine of Japan.  The author purposely strips out descriptive details of setting in order to focus on the fine points of character’s behavior.

It is unfortunate that this popular Japanese writer’s work does not get published in the United States more quickly.  Because the book is ten years old, references to electronics are dated.  Wired phones and fax machines are common instead of cell phones and someone is using a PDA.  There are other clues to its year of origin which could have been fixed if the author had worked with the translator to update it–but apparently that did not seem important.

I was excited by the first half to two-thirds of the book, but  got weary of what seemed merely to be repetitive in the middle of the book. However, a good detective keeps paying attention and does not jump to conclusions, right? Whenever I got impatient with the narrative, I reminded myself that Higashino is a tricky writer and he could be providing me clues or setting me up to believe a thoroughly unreliable narrator.

Early in the book,  I did have an inkling of what was going on and I figured it out before the detective did, but then he had to pile up a lot of proof, whereas I could just say–“Oh! Yeah! That’s it.”

So–I challenge you. Read or listen to Malice and let me know if you suspect the solution before the end.


The CD illustration links to Amazon, so you won’t have to go through an investigation to find it, should you want to buy it. Although it costs you no more, I make a few cents when you buy things through my Amazon links. Thanks.

MacMillan Audio provided me with the CD for review.  While I appreciate their interest in what A Traveler’s Library has to say, a review copy  does not guarantee good reviews. I give you my honest opinion.


10 Best Books of 2014

around the world globe and books
Globe and books. Photo by Bastien Vaucher,found on Flickr.com

Best what?  Best books to inspire travel that were (mostly) published in 2014 and reviewed at A Traveler’s Library in 2014. (Except for one that has been read and reviewed, but you just haven’t seen that review yet, okay?) I have not linked each book to its review because that irritates Google, but you can easily find them by typing the title or the author into the search bar up above on the right. And if you want to purchase your own choice of best books, check out that nifty carousel on the right hand side of the page toward the bottom. *

10. The Good Suicides and Summer of the Dead Toys by Antonio Hill.[Barcelona] In a statement that applies to both books, I said:

Hill, a psychologist, brings his knowledge into play not only in developing characters, but also in knowing how to interest us.

Most of this plays out in a city popular with travelers–Barcelona. As a traveler who reads, you’ll learn quite a bit about the culture of modern day Spain.

9. Black Lake by Johanna Lane. [Northern Ireland] I said:

Lane skillfully wraps you in the landscape and magically captures just the right tone for each character.

8. The Scent of Pine by Lara Vapnyar [Russia and Maine]. This book appealed to me not so much because of its specific place, but because it reflects Russian immigrant culture and contrasts Russian and American expectations. I said:

While this section is setting up the dissatisfaction and loneliness that fuels the action of the novel, it strikes me as an accurate portrayal of anyone who tries to adapt to a new country, not just immigrants from Russia to the United States.  And that includes Americans who try living in a different land as several books about moving to Tuscany, Paris or Spain  have illustrated.

7. Rage Against the Dying by Beck Masterman [Tucson, Arizona] I interviewed Becky Masterman and not wanting to give away the plot, I didn’t say much about the book. I said:

This exciting new mystery book features a hard-boiled detective. Typical of the breed.  Slightly older than the bad guys, but still a fighter. Disrespectful of authority. Drinks too much. Appreciates the opposite sex. Harbors some inner secrets that make for an interestingly flawed character.

But there the typicality stops. This hard-boiled detective is a woman.

6. Terminal City by Linda Fairstein. [New York City] This is the first of Fairstein’s mystery series I had read, which is too bad, because they each focus on a part of New York City, the country’s greatest tourist attraction. I said:

Fairstein has done enough research to fill a separate book about the history, the dimensions of the building , the tunnels, the hidden spaces, the art work, the homeless who live underground, the pattern of transportation in and out–moving people on foot and by rail.

5. Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City by Stephane Kirland [Paris]  You knew I could not do a best books list without Paris, didn’t you?  This one takes you time traveling and I said:

Here is a book that entertains as it educates, and will give you a peek behind the pretty face of Paris.

4. Townie by Andre Dubus III [Massachusetts] Here’s another book that doesn’t really set the stage for the place you will visit today, but tells you about life in the past in a Massachusetts boyhood memoir. I said:

The amazing thing about this book is that although its subject is violence of a kind I have never experienced and it takes place in a world of poverty that makes me feel alien and overpriveleged, I could sink entirely into the life described.  That’s how vivid and enticing Dubus’ writing is.

3. The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian [Florence, Italy] (Pub. in 2013) Another author I only recently discovered and I have searched for another of his books that I might enjoy.  Not an easy task since he writes in many genres and I do not appreciate all of them.  Of this one, however, I said:

Besides the gruesome murders, there is a verboten love affair, universal distrust of neighbors, revenge motives galore, pondering of social classes and of course the who-is-next suspense of a killer on the loose.  It is rather amazing how much delightful reading is crammed in to this fairly short book.

2. I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira. [Paris] This one is a very personal choice, but I love fictionalized biographies.  There are times when the bare facts just don’t tell all. And I’m fascinated by Belle Epoque Paris (See Paris Reborn above). Of this alleged romance between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, I said:

Life among the artists of the Belle Epoque in Paris on the other hand swirls and sparkles just as you would expect in the midst of a gang that included a bunch of nobodies (then) who are artistic treasures (now).  We are treated to gossip about the Impressionists who were shocking the world with their rebellious style.

1. A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett. [Somalia]

You are going to have to wait a few days for the review on my top choice of 2014, but I can tell you right now the book is worth waiting for.  I didn’t want to review this book at first, because my criteria for A Traveler’s Library is that a book must make you want to go there, or shed light on a culture you visit.  It did not sound like a book about a journalist captured by Somali rebels and held prisoner for nearly two years would inspire travel. But…. (to be continued).


This is the 6th year that  I have done a list of best books, and I swear it gets harder every year.  What were your favorite travel-inspiring books this year?

* When you click on an Amazon link, because I am an Amazon associate, anything you buy earns me a few pennies. THANK YOU!




Must Adventure Equal Risk?

Guidebook (Kind of) Digression

Destination: The Amazon River Basin, Columbia and Venezuela

Book: Along the River That Flows Uphill: From the Orinoco to the Amazon (2009), by Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt

Adventure travel competes with luxury travel in a daily race to stuff my mail box and Google Reader.  An occasional luxury adventure trip–to Manchuria in a luxury yurt or the Arctic in a build-it-yourself igloo–hits both the popular themes at once.

What makes it luxurious? More comfort. Less risk.  What makes for adventure? Facing a totally new experience which y the very fact of being unknown holds the promise of risk. But as Starks and Murcut point out in Along the River That Flows Uphill, most risk is foreseeable and therefore preventable.  Or as the precisely scientific Starks puts it, ‘Risk = Probability of an Event x Time Exposed to the Event x Adverse Consequences.’

I could not help wondering if a risk that is foreseen and prepared for is risk at all.  And therefore, by preparing, have you removed the adventure from adventure travel? Continue reading Must Adventure Equal Risk?