Thursday, February 14, 2013

"Because deceit was the same as erosion of character"

Read/Watch 'em in Order #31

After Last Laugh, Mr Moto (1942), it was 14 years before John Marquand returned to the character. World War Two got in the way of writing about a Japanese agent who was admirable even when he was working for the other side.

But in 1956, Mr. Moto turned up one last time. Stopover: Tokyo was first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in '56 and '57, under the title Rendezvous in Tokyo. It was published in book form in '57, with later editions using alternate titles such as The Last of Mr. Moto and Right You Are, Mr. Moto.

It's a darker and more cynical novel than the pre-war entries in the series. As was always the case, Moto isn't the main protagonist. But where the earlier novels featured more-or-less innocent men unwittingly caught up in espionage schemes, this time the hero is a spy every bit as professional as Mr. Moto.

Jack Rhyce presumably works for the CIA, though the novel is one of those cases in which the organization isn't specifically named. He, along with a lady agent named Ruth Bogart, is sent to Tokyo to look into a Communist assassination plot intended to lure Japan away from an alliance with the U.S. and bring it closer to the Russians.

Rhyce is a man who is used to playing different roles and constantly thinking about details to maintain cover identities--he's so used to it that he often wonders if he could still exist as an individual if he ever left the business and returned to the "outside." He wonders if the things he has to do as a spy have made him unfit to be a regular human being. Is deceit and a self-imposed ruthlessness now too much a part of him?

This is a subject matter that's been explored in other spy novels as well. And I think Marquand actually spends a little bit too much time sharing Rhyce's introspection with us--the novel tends to plod along too slowly during its first half. But even so, Marquand is skilled at creating believable and sympathetic characters, allowing us to remain interested in Rhyce even while we're wishing he'd leave off with his internal self-evaluations and actually do something.

Fortunately, the death of a fellow agent starts events moving a little more quickly. By then, Rhyce and Ruth have fallen in love with each other, tentatively planning on leaving the business when the current mission is done. But first, they'll have to live through the next few days. That will be no easy task.

And where is Mr. Moto in all this? He shows up fairly early on, but he and Rhyce don't necessarily seem to be on the same side at first. But when they are eventually forced to compare notes, they discover that they share a common goal in stopping the upcoming assassination. What makes this problem interesting is that they know why the assassination will take place--but they don't know for certain who the exact target is.

Moto's closer involvement in the case is another reason the book improves so much in its latter half. Moto isn't quite as interesting in a post-war setting--one of the strengths of the earlier novels is that you often didn't know whose side he would be on at first. But in 1957, any spying he does for Japan will mirror American interests. You know he'll be an ally this time around.

Also, paring him up with another skilled agent instead of a fish-out-of-water does detract from his overall coolness a little bit. He's no longer quite as unique. But you can never completely take Mr. Moto's mojo away. It's still a pleasure to hang around with him. (Though he's gotten a little bitter as he's gotten older: "Americans are always so sentimental when they are not using flame-throwers and napalm.")

Unexpected plot twists keep the tension and suspense during the climax. Stopover: Tokyo is my least favorite in the series, but it's still worth reading.

That's it for Mr. Moto. I may one day do the Peter Lorre films series as part of the Read/Watch 'em in Order series, but for now we'll add some more science fiction to the mix. Our next book series will be Otis Adelbert Kline's Mars/Venus series. The Venus novels, by the way, are titled Planet of Peril (1929), The Prince of Peril (1930) and The Port of Peril (1932). As you've probably guessed, Venus turns out to be a very perilous place.


  1. I remember seeing the movie of STOPOVER TOKYO years ago on television -- the heroine was played by Joan Collins, which might have surprised the author.

    1. I've never gotten around to watching it. The absence of Moto pretty much turns me off from it. I would have no objection to Collins as the heroine, though. In her younger days, she was a very pretty and effective actress. Heck, Captain Kirk was tempted to sacrifice the entire Federation for her!


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