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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Lady Joker (II)

Takamura Kaoru

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To purchase Lady Joker (II)

Title: Lady Joker (II)
Author: Takamura Kaoru
Genre: Novel
Written: 1997 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 592 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Lady Joker (II) - US
Lady Joker (II) - UK
Lady Joker (II) - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: レディ・ジョーカー
  • The second part of Lady Joker; see also part one: Lady Joker (I)
  • Translated by Allison Markin Powell and Marie Iida
  • Lady Joker has been made into a film, directed by Hideyuki Hirayama (2004), and a TV mini-series (2013)

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Our Assessment:

B : crime saga with impressive sweep

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 15/8/2022 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Admirers of intricate crime fiction, which both engages the intellect and offers insights into the hidden parts of a society, will hope for further translations of this gifted author’s work." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Lady Joker (II) begins right where Lady Joker (I) left off, with part four of the five-part novel, 'The Threat'. It is May, 1995, and 'Lady Joker' -- as the crime gang call themselves -- has (finally) made a demand for money from corporate giant Hinode Beer: they want six hundred million yen. The police are on top of it -- even as they suspect that they are being kept somewhat in the dark: after all, while Hinode President and CEO Kyosuke Shiroyama was kidnapped by the group, he was also soon released, and it wouldn't seem that the gang has much leverage to extort any money -- but clearly they do. There's clearly something going on that Hinode has not shared with the authorities.
       Police inspector Yuichiro Goda has been assigned to shadow Shiroyama -- both to act as a kind of bodyguard as well as to provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what is really going at Hinode, at least to the extent that he can. He patiently tags along with Shiroyama, and while he has his suspicions -- including that Shiroyama is in contact with his former kidnappers -- he also long remains in the dark as to the details. Meanwhile, the press -- especially at Toho News -- are doing their own investigating, certain that there is more of a story behind all this as well, and trying to figure out what it might be. Fighting daily deadlines, every little titbit is important to them -- so even: "the name alone -- Lady Joker -- was sufficiently newsworthy to be splashed in a banner headline across the top of the front page".
       The police do their best to nab the gang when the ransom money is to be delivered, but it's just a feint. Lady Joker is just testing the waters, and they have a different plan in mind -- making separate but related demands directly to Shiroyama.
       The story here continues to be presented almost entirely from the perspective of those dealing with (and trying to figure out) what Lady Joker is up to -- Hinode Beer (especially Shiroyama), the police, and the press -- while the gang and its various members remain (appropriately enough) in the shadowy background.
       The case takes on new urgency when the gang makes good on the threat to essentially take hostage what is truly valuable, the beer itself, as they contaminate several bottles with a (harmless) red dye. It leads, not least, to sensationalistic tabloid headlines: "LADY JOKER BEARS ITS FANGS: CHILLING BLOOD RED CONTAMINATED BEER FOUND and HORROR ! LADY JOKER'S DECLARATION OF WAR: CATASTROPHIC BLOW TO HINODE'S SUMMER".
       The situation is indeed a terrible one for Hinode -- "No amount of panic felt sufficient" -- as, of course, also: "the contaminated beer had created prime extortion conditions". There's also the potential of stock manipulation, and one of the things being looked into is a shadowy group of investors who may be playing this particular market for gain, with the newspaper reporters, in particular, digging into that lead.
       While the violin-playing Goda is only assigned a limited role in the huge investigation, the narrative presents much of it as he experiences it -- not fully in the loop, but also more on top of many aspects of it than his colleagues. Like the rest of the police, he too wonders, after yet another demand that leads nowhere from Lady Joker: "what could the crime group be after, with these instructions that clearly made a cash grab impossible ?" He does eventually find an explanation: "the answer that came at last to Goda's heart was that this was a crime of conscience".
       Readers have been aware of the 1990 incident that set Lady Joker into motion, and conscience then does play a role in all sides of what unfolds here. Shiroyama, too, wonders about his own actions, past and recent, while also trying to do his duty to the company he has served so long. Others seem to feel greater pangs: there is more than one suicide .....
       The final part of the novel, set in the fall of 1995, is titled: 'The Collapse;. Here we turn more to the loose group of people that operated as Lady Joker -- with one of them suggesting: "Why don't we do it one more time ?" The others are hardly inclined to, satisfied with what they've accomplished and still treading very cautiously -- aware that the police is still keeping an eye on things (and some of them -- not least the policeman in their ranks) and not doing anything with the stash of cash they've accumulated. But some of their old bag of tricks is indeed put back in action -- albeit with a different target, another brewing giant, Mainichi Beer.
       Rather than a simple chess game between criminals and those determined to catch them, Lady Joker presents a wide spectrum of characters with different motives and goals. The 'Lady Joker'-gang is not a single monolith, and the members of the group act very differently; for many, the money is almost incidental -- though they also don't necessarily feel that what they've accomplished is a great triumph. From Goda pressuring the policeman who is part of the group, Handa, to Shiroyama's own feelings of guilt and how he acts on them, the fallout of the crime(s) continues to have a powerful effect -- and Takamura does strongly make the point of how matters of conscience are at the center of so much here.
       All in all, it is an unusual thriller. There are several layers of crime, guilt, and regret here. It is interesting to note how many of the characters are under close observation for much the novel. The police closely watch several of those they suspect being part of Lady Joker -- and they, in turn, are well aware of the surveillance --, while the police also have Shiroyama (and Hinode in general) under close watch. Separately, the press is looking into different aspects of the case, with reporters getting caught up in the action.
       The web of connections -- including to the 1990 incident -- is an almost overwhelming one but does offer a fascinating overview of parts of Japanese society, notably corporate culture in its broadest sense (and also the business tricks and dealings surrounding even major firms). With characters from various parts of society part of the Lady Joker-gang -- their love of horse racing (of which there is quite a bit in the novel) one of the few things they share --, Takamura presents slices of very different lives -- and it is presenting this personal side that seems as important to her as the actual mystery-thriller elements of the novel. There's little mystery in Lady Joker as to whodunnit -- but a great emphasis on the who, on who these people involved in the crime (including the executives at Hinode, as well as the reporters covering the case(s)) are, and how they are affected by what happens.
       Lady Joker is a massive novel, and occasionally numbing in its detail, but in its very broad sweep does offer a great deal -- not least in poignancy.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 October 2022

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Lady Joker (II): Reviews: Lady Joker - the films: Other books by Takamura Kaoru under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Takamura Kaoru (髙村薫) was born in 1953.

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© 2022 the complete review

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