Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Kwaidan - Case no. 20100616

Scene of crime: Novel


Patrick Lafcadio Hearn

Case for the defence:

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn collects 14 Japanese folk tales and some essays on insects and butterflies.

Hearn was born in Lefkada (hence his middle name) to an Irish Protestant father and a Greek noblewoman, raised in Dublin, matured as a journalist in the US and at the age of 40 emigrated to Japan. Despite operettas like the Mikado, the Land of the Rising Sun remained in in the shadows of Western minds in 1890 when he moved to Japan, and Hearn's publication of Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things just before his death in 1904 helped spread Japanese cultural tales from their land of origin.

Like folk tales from other parts of the world, the collection in Kwaidan varies – some humorous, some dark, and others plain disturbing to modern readers. Of the stories included, the dream of Akinosuke is probably the most famous, if only for Stark Trek: The Next Generation paraphrasing it for one of its best-received episodes. The tales are from across the eras of Japanese history and offer an insight into the culture of the country.

Hearn's collection of essays on insects, by contrast, are personal musings on how Japan and Hearn himself viewed the creatures.

 Witness statements:

"Kwaidan translates from the Japanese as weird tales, which perfectly describes these haunting stories.

This collection of supernatural tales includes a musician called upon to perform for the dead, man-eating goblins, and insects who uncannily mimic human behaviour. A perfect treat for fans of the strange and otherworldly." – Amazon review


Folk tales aren't easy on the modern citizen. Many come from a social order alien to them, such as life-long commitments formed on one (comatose) kiss or that if your mother is wicked, being ripped apart by wild animals is fair justice. The Law is strong, but it is never cruel. The Grimm brothers and their cohorts would do well if they had a copy of our noble laws to hand. In fact, perhaps the time will come when it's time to judge them for attempts to instil citizen justice – when did you ever read of a Judge determining the villains' sentence in the end? I may make a formal request to the Cultural Unit that fairy tales are rewritten to improve citizen morality and faith in the Justice System.

Returning to Kwaidan, I was impressed before reading by the fact that Amazon has printed this as a lost book – anything that enhances the knowledge of citizens (and keeps them off the streets violating the Law) gets my vote (if democracy were not illegal). The tales are varied and from various parts and periods of Japan, with a variety of humour and darkness.

Stand-out is Akinosuke for its whimsy and exploration of what it is to be happy as family, while Jikininki and Rokurokubi are good for showcasing Japanese supernatural beliefs. As for The Story of Mimi-nashi Hōichi, I'd sentence the priest – who was meant to look after his ward – for neglect.

The essays are diverge too much from the previous stories, but are no reason not to buy this book.

Verdict & sentence:

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn, late of Japan and Honda City, while your folk tales are worthy of Official Recognition as Hero of the Mega City, but the essays trouble me. Let this be an official warning on mixing such topics, otherwise you're free to go.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Be Near me – Andrew O'Hagan. Case no. 20100606

Scene of crime: Novel


Andrew O'Hagan, author

Case for the defence:

Be Near Me tells the story of Fr David Anderton, a priest born in Edinburgh, schooled in England and now regarded by his Ayrshire parish as satan himself – not just English but a paedophile at that. Being an Oxford man this may be expected, but to the denizens of Dalgarnock – a clutch of Orangemen, chavs, dole lovers, working class snobs, and ghetto-wannabes – he's a cuckoo in the nest who on refusing to conform must be destroyed.

Anderton ultimately is, not for forcing choirboys to receive his offering but for an ecstasy-fuelled kiss of the class hard man. His 'friend' the Bishop tries and fails to rescue him, as does his cleaning lady and in the end Fr David goes his own way.

Witness statements:

"O'Hagan's work has always concerned itself specifically with Scottish identity, and more generally with the structures and ideas that hold societies together, and the frail bonds which hold individuals to the body of society. He is a writer of stern and bleak ambition, but with a tender concern for the people who find themselves adrift and inadequate - for their particularity, for the singularity of their broken stories. As often with this writer, digressions can seem to slow the narrative and divert it; a bit too much of those Proustians, perhaps, a bit too much dinner-table argument over political commonplaces. But in the end he turns the wanderings back to his central purpose. He is a fine stylist, a penetrating analyst, a knowledgable guide to high thinking and squalid living, as observant and funny about the townsfolks' violent quirks as he is about the affectations of his sad central character. Between the lines, everything fits. This is a nuanced, intense and complex treatment of a sad and simple story.

"Read it twice." - Hilary Mantel, The Guardian

"O'Hagan has the power and exactitude to take the measure of a politically inert ex-industrial society subsisting on the long-chewed bones of sectarian and ethnic prejudices. He writes with bracing clarity, as if the sentimental despoliation of realism by television's treatment of working-class life had never happened. Yet, although much contemporary writing seems myopic and trivial in comparison, Be Near Me is simply too short, as if scaled down from its true ambitions, provoking admiration and regret in equal measure." - Sean O'Brien, The Independent


My informant, Agent Orange, alerted me to this crime and I'm glad that she did. Great writers can tell us a lot about what society was like before the the Atomic Wars glassed it. Mega City scientists have been unable to learn anything new about from this book. What evidence they have amassed through Greene, Burgess and Waugh, British Catholic males were to a man mopey, and, in most cases, repressed homosexuals. O'Hagan's work merely adds to this hypothesis.

O'Hagan reminds me of an old perp, Lynard Smokey, I hauled in for jaywalking – asked why he did it, he'd respond with a promising story he swore would explain all, only to stop and drop it just as it started to get interesting. Perhaps O'Hagan thinks that Fr David is too interesting to share the story with many others, but as the old saying goes, never trust a man who uploads his own picture to Wikipedia.

Be Near Me touches upon the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the paedophilia paranoia of the late-20th to early-21st century, and touches most of all celibacy, but like the priest with his brief kiss, he doesn't go all the way. I've been part of the Justice system for nearly 30 years and by now I can sniff a motive from even the most sealed of cases, but even I struggled to find a story in O'Hagan's work.

His style is pleasant enough, and while Judges are deservedly known as hard-hearted, even we know when a character is meant to get some sympathy, but I rooted no evidence out for this here. It's like listening to an old lady describing her lost cat – to her the cat is the source of sunshine and personality. To me it's just another sheet of paper and the foreboding I'm going to have to go over and detailed how we found Patch digesting in some alien's belly.

Verdict & sentence:

Andrew O'Hagan, for cliché I sentence you to three years in the isolation cubes, and for the crime of telling a meandering story you are to serve your sentence in chains. Let this be a lesson to others.

Hilary Mantel, for attempting to mislead a Judge I sentence you to a year in the cubes. To be served twice.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Ashes to Ashes – Exhibits E – G and Summing up

Scene of crime: BBC One


Executive producers Ashley Pharaoh, Matthew Graham, Simon Crawford Collins, Jane Featherstone, Alison Jackson.

Case for the defence:

Ashes to Ashes finally ends after three series of supposedly-1980s action (mainly a bit of eyeliner and rolled up denim jackets). This time the final three episodes are condensed into one submission of evidence and the final sentence is given. As always, Mega City Judges will pull no punches (Tharg note: this means spoiler alert).

Witness statements:

"It seems that Hunt's been dead all along, I think. To be honest I'm not totally sure what's going on.... Did the people behind A2A know all this when they started, or are they just tying together all the loose ends together now, in a big old knot?" - Sam Wollaston, the Guardian
"Anyway, the question is: did the final episode deliver on its promises? Yes, absolutely, and with the impact of a punch in the gut from Hunt.
Whatever you may feel about Ashes to Ashes -- and it surely went on too long -- this was a cracking, supremely clever closing chapter, every bit as gripping and ingenious as the finale of Life On Mars." Pat Stacey, The Herald


The last three exhibits have been submitted as one, which makes summing up the series nice and simple. I like things simple, leaves me more time to spend on the streets cleaning it of perps. Even fining someone for littering gives me more pleasure than this secondment to the Cultural Unit. But if the Chief Judge says you gotta go, you gotta go. Just you perps know that when I am back on the street I'll be itchier than ever to dish out some proper justice.

Justice, huh, what did our predecessors, the police, do before the judges brought law and order? Not much if Ashes to Ashes is anything to go by.

First there's Exhibit E, where a prison riot leads to the prisoners holding Gene Hunt's officers hostage. Guess that riot foam wasn't invented then so they couldn't subdue the prisoners that way, but looks like 1980s CCTV quality was much better than the history books suggest. And why Gene Hunt thought he could lead his men in I don't know, I'd have busted him down to rookie before you could say 'Judge Cal'.

Pc Viv took a shoot in a by-the-numbers script - foreshadow that something's wrong with him but is ignored, reveal that he's a traitor, give a speech on his motivations, colleagues who disown him, and a token bit of sacrificial action by Viv to redeem himself. I've seen that so many times we study it at the Academy. Guess Viv didn't.

The only saving grace is that Ray now appears to have a personality, but the downside was a heavy dose of Sam Tyler references, which only served to highlight how unlikable Alex Drake is and how badly done Ashes to Ashes is. It also showed how little real-world, beyond the coma interaction there is, but more on that later. Of course character development can be forgotten – I notice no one has mentioned Chris' little brush with the dark side in the last series.

Perhaps it's best that the past is forgotten lest we get the 'romance' we saw between Alex and Gene; prominent in the first series. But like the zombies from Judgment Day, the two have their dead romance rise from the grave. And like Judgment Day, they're all dead. Yes, that's the secret behind both Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. Do I need to go on...? Okay, the Chief Judge says I do. Well then.

Despite the inconsistencies – why Ray and Chris 'channelled' the real world in Life on Mars at times, why they don't remember dying (or deduce it, they're no Judges but they are detectives for grud's sake), or that they too had been back in time despite their mocking of Sam Tyler, it at least fitted into the third series of Ashes to Ashes.

Gene and Alex finally kiss, after a meandering build up to it in the penultimate episode, and she says goodbye after the Magical Negro Nelson guides them to heaven. An AD2010 pub. With the devil as a long streak of Mega City Law H756 Section 35 (public urination, prevention of). Grud no wonder we banned religion back in 2078 if this is what you were expected to believe in.

It takes a lot to move a Judge to emotion. There wasn't a lot, even in this final episode, but enough for some.

Verdict & sentence:

Up until the final episode execution was being mulled over. However, how can you kill something that's already dead? Trust me, we've tried before and it ain't pretty.

The final episode, though it made a hash of Life on Mars, did tie in with the final series. Ashley Pharaoh, Matthew Graham, Simon Crawford Collins, Jane Featherstone, Alison Jackson - Justice is not a harsh mistress, execution is commuted, I'm gonna be lenient and you only get 25 years in the isolation cubes. Add a year in solitary for not playing Bowie's Ashes to Ashes. You don't have to thank me.