Dreaming Pachinko By Isaac Adamson (Perrenial)
I don't have the cognitive capacity for detective novels or mysteries. I forget characters, I miss clues, and I get confused by red herrings and distracted by femme fatales. Basically, they always make me feel stupid, so I don't read many of them.

But goddamn, do I love me some good kung fu. That's something I do have the cognitive capacity for, and it's what initially got me interested in Isaac Adamson's stuff. He writes detective novels, but they're set in Japan, where people do kung fu all the damn time, and they're about a guy named Billy Chaka, who even has a cool kung fu-type name.

Tokyo Suckerpunch and Hokkaido Popsicle were Adamson's first two books, and they were fast-paced, wryly postmodern detective novels. They were a lot of fun, and a big bonus was that Chaka--a gaijin reporter for Youth in Asia magazine--occasionally busted some heads, Jet Li style.

With his latest, Dreaming Pachinko, Adamson attempts to place his neon-soaked depiction of Japan into a deeper historical context. He does a pretty good job, which is too bad--by doing so, he takes away much of the verve and punch that his first two books had. In Suckerpunch, Chaka whipped through Tokyo on a motorcycle while investigating a hack film director. In Popsicle, he dealt with Japan's biggest rock star and devious cryosuspension schemes. But Pachinko puts Chaka in darker territory, meditating on Tokyo's obsessive consumerism, tangled family histories, and the brutal acts and aftermath of WWII.

Sure, there are moments of lightness--as a character, Chaka is nothing if not inexhaustibly sarcastic and fun--but those moments clash weirdly with the more sobering plot. In Suckerpunch and Popsicle, Adamson's deft inclusions of Eastern philosophy and sociological observations dovetailed with Chaka's adventures, but here they overwhelm him. It's not that Adamson isn't writing as well this time around; it's just that his subject matter has outgrown his premise.

But here's my main thing--Chaka doesn't do any kung fu in the whole damn book! I got all excited on page 169 when it looked like he was going to, but then he just punches a girl--by accident, even. How lame is that? ERIK HENRIKSEN