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by Marshall Browne
Thomas Dunne Books, November 2005
304 pages
ISBN: 0312311583

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Tokyo inspector Hideo Aoki is reeling from his latest case. He had been working his men hard on the corrupt actions of former Governor Yukio Tamaki, also know as Fatman and just as the case was being made, the politicos called everyone off. He was devastated.

He brooded about it even after he was assigned to another case. His wife was so upset that she told her best friend about it who in turn told her husband, a reporter. The reporter made it into a headline story, which got Aoki into big trouble with the police department and this upset the Aoki household so much that the stress gave Aoki's elderly father, who lived with them, a fatal heart attack. Then the guilt and stress caused Aoki's wife to commit suicide.

Aoki went into a deeply depressed state for a long while, but after resting and being treated he returned to the police department. His immediate boss, Superintendent Watanabe, who had Aoki under surveillance during his worst days, ordered him to a retreat in a distant remote inn named Kamakura, a very old place meant for rest so there were few conveniences or modern facilities.

After his arrival, a large snowstorm hits and the inn is cut off from the rest of the country. Aoki is amazed to discover that two main suspects in a famous unsolved case of Watanabe's are guests while many members of the murdered woman involved are working as staff at the inn. Every one of them hates the suspects. There is also a mysterious man who simply plays Go all day, re-enacting a famous game from the past. Aoki is confused but interested.

Then, at the worst of the storm, people start to be found ritualistically murdered, butchered. Aoki takes charge of the investigation until the local police can be alerted and get to the inn.

Aoki's lead question is why was he sent to this remote place? Is he supposed to solve the 15-year-old case for Watanabe or is he there for another, more nefarious reason?

RENDEZVOUS AT KAMAKURA INN by Marshall Browne is a deeply introspective novel, not at all the usual action-packed murder mystery. Most of the time we are inside Aoki's mind as he thinks about the case and his life. The story unravels slowly and with an overall sense of melancholy while the readers get to learn about the Japanese culture and some of the differences there are regarding drinking and the use of professional escorts, or geishas. It's all done in a very fascinating way.

The ending seems a bit tacked on and is finished off quickly, as opposed to the very long time taken to go through everything in the middle of the book, but the story never fails to keep your interest. RENDEZVOUS AT KAMAKURA INN is a slow mystery but a well-crafted and ultimately a satisfying one.

Reviewed by Sharon Katz, December 2005

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