Thursday, November 22, 2012

Reputation is Everything

Read/Watch ‘em in order #27

This time out, we don’t have a protagonist who is too drunk or too bitter or too cynical to amount to anything until an adventure involving Mr. Moto pulls him out of it. In ThinkFast, Mr. Moto (1937), we have a hero who is simply young and inexperienced—but determined to make good.

Wilson Hitchings is a member of a family that owns a very old and conservative bank operating out of Shanghai. So when a distant (and very pretty) relative uses the family name to run a casino in Hawaii, something has to be done to protect the bank’s reputation. Wilson, who is just learning the ropes, is sent to the Islands to deal with it.

At first, he thinks he just has to convince a bitter relative to sell out to a family she hates. But things soon get more complex. It’s not just that the roulette wheel is crooked—it’s that the casino is being used to launder money being sent to rebels in Japanese-controlled Manchuria.

Mr. Moto soon appears on the scene. The Japanese agent’s initial theory is that the Hitchings Bank is knowingly involved in the money shipments. In fact, he even holds Wilson responsible for an attempt on his life.

But Wilson doesn’t back down in his own investigation. To his own surprise, he discovers that he can handle himself well in dangerous situations. Before long, he and Moto are working together.

Well, working together to an extent. Moto wants to close down the money pipeline to Manchuria no matter what. Wilson’s first concern is the reputation of the bank and his family. The two men sort-of want the same thing—but may need to get there from different directions.

These leads Wilson to make what seems to be a very bad and very dangerous decision when he attempts to deal directly with the leader of the money-laundering operation. In fact, poor Wilson might be inadvertently responsible for getting Mr. Moto killed…

You can’t help but like Wilson. He’s intensely loyal to his family, but he doesn’t shy away from difficult moral decisions when faced with them. The book is extremely well-plotted, having only occasional moments of action, but holding your interest and building up suspense quite nicely as Wilson gradually figures out what the heck is going on.

And Mr. Moto is arguably at his best in this novel. His manipulation of events in the last chapter puts him right up there with the Shadow, Batman or Sherlock Holmes in his ability to outthink his opponents.

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