Thursday, December 6, 2012

Kill him if you have to--but DON'T be rude!

Read/Watch ‘em in Order #28

Calvin Gates is traveling through China—much of which is occupied by the Japanese—enroute to Mongolia on a quixotic quest that has something to do with family honor. (We are not initially given the details.)

But it’s soon apparent that Gates’ journey won’t be a straightforward one. First of all, both Japan and Russia have troops poised to invade Northern China and parts of Mongolia. Who will make the first move depends on the contents of a certain message being carried by a Russian agent who is poising as a guide for an American woman.

The message is somehow a part of a silver cigarette case inlaid with certain images. This is the McGuffin of the story—after the Russian agent is killed in Gates’ hotel room, the case becomes a hot potato that jumps between Gates and the girl (the attractive and strong-willed Miss Dillaway), while both Japanese military agents and the enigmatic Mr. Moto seem determined to gain possession of it.

The thing is that Moto seems to be at odds with the Japanese army. For regular readers of the Moto series, this by itself isn’t surprising. Moto violently clashed with a different political faction within his own government in Thank You, Mr. Moto.

But that knowledge really doesn’t help Gates and Dillaway. They are caught up in something they don’t understand. They know the cigarette case is important, but have no idea why. All they know for sure is that everyone seems to think they are expendable. As their journey takes them farther in occupied China, the danger increases. But simply getting rid of the case seems just as dangerous as keeping it.

This is my personal favorite of the Mr. Moto novels---it does a fantastic job of keeping the sense of danger and palpable suspense high from start to finish. The motivations of everyone involved are complex, but make sense when it’s all explained at the denoument. But for the bulk of the novel, we’re just as confused as Gates is, sympathizing completely when he can never be quite sure if his own plan of action (when he even has a plan) is the correct one.

Also, Moto has some great dialogue. The best line comes after Gates is briefly held prisoner by the Japanese Army and is nearly executed. Moto comments on this: “…they would liquidate, of course, but I hope so much that they were polite. I should not wish to report rudeness.”

The climax involves Moto, a Japanese army officer, a Russian general, an overweight German merchant, a Mongolian prince and an Australian mercenary that none of them can be quite sure of trusting. Heck, with that mix of characters, how can the novel possibly be anything else but entertaining? 

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