The Bogus Buddha

James Melville

Headline 1990
A book review by Danny Yee © 1999
The Bogus Buddha is one of a series of novels about Tetsuo Otani, police superintendent of Hyogo prefecture, Japan. Light-hearted and urbane, they fall into the "polite" mystery tradition rather than the "hard-boiled" one. Though his writing fits comfortably within genre conventions, Melville uses the Japanese setting (and elements derived from the Chinese Judge Dee stories) to create something new. He is now among my favourite crime novelists.

Melville's plots are skillfully paced and thematically engaging, involving the unusual and out of the ordinary without becoming fantastic or implausible. (In The Bogus Buddha two separate strands end in murder: tensions between academics at a summer school on Japanese culture and an underworld struggle between gangsters.) But the real attraction lies in the characters and their relationships. One-off characters sometimes have leading parts, but it is Otani's family and assistants who take on a life all of their own, often threatening to steal the story. "Ninja" Noguchi, a slightly seedy figure with contacts throughout the underworld, and ladies' man Kimura, responsible for anything to do with foreigners, are particularly memorable, as is Otani's wife Hanae. But we keep returning to Otani himself, who centres everything.

July 1999

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%T The Bogus Buddha
%A Melville, James
%I Headline
%D 1990
%O hardcover
%G ISBN 0747202621
%P 180pp