Sayonara Slam (A Mas Arai Mystery) Paperback – April 26, 2016
Mas Arai is a gardener who has a hand in finding our who killed a reporter name Itai covering a game at Dodger Stadium between Japan and Korea in the World Baseball Classic. But, murders happen when you least expect them and before the pitcher can throw the first pitch this reporter is dead. Mas is a gardener from Altadena California who English is fair and who winds up working for Itai’s replacement. Imagine a woman who can throw knuckleball pitches to warm up the Japanese Team? Imagine poor Mas in the middle of this intrigue hoping to get paid a lot of money, worrying his daughter who wants to know his whereabouts all the time and the comedy of this almost 80 year old man learning how to use a cell phone. Mas is a great character and you come to understand his ways and his thinking but when the new reporter comes to down, wants to check the files of the first, but they are deleted but why Mas is in danger and things become interesting. Why would anyone think he was a traitor? What was on Itat’s computer and what will be uncovered? Added in are the wild and funny scenes with his girlfriend, his daughter wanting him not to stay over her house and the thought that he might lose her and her affections. Driving a rundown car, wearing false teeth, cannot see too well and living in a house filled with his daughter and her family, this man who survived Hiroshima provides a new perspective and outlook on the meaning of the word sleuth. Not liking to talk a lot, no flashy things or clothes he brings back old-fashioned Barnaby Jones sleuthing.
We meet Lloyd is son-in-law who is now the head groundskeeper at Dodger Stadium and should be spending his day mowing the lawn and having a pleasurable day. A famous knuckleball pitcher is throwing to the Japanese team to warm them up and he meets a Dodger’s executive Takaya who played and relates information about this knuckleball pitcher who happens to a woman named Neko Kawaskai. She is in the minors and is helping the Japanese batters to face Korea’s best and is a master of the hard to hit pitch. But, Mas becomes like a chauffeur to the new sportswriter, and finds out information about the hated Itai who was killed and unfortunately he was the last with him and handed in a tainted bottle of water. Kimura Yukikazu is the new reporter and the show must go on so does the game stop for no death. Mas has a childhood girlfriend and this young man called Yuki is her grandson. Her name is Alemi someone causing him trouble years ago as Yuki wants to hire Mas to be his driver and help with translations when asking questions about the other writer’s death. Secrets are about to unfold as we learn the cause of death from the deputy coroner as cyanide poisoning and poor Mas gets caught in his own web of lies as he tries to hide his relationship with Alemi and this distances him from Genesse. While Mas is being paid 100 dollars a day to drive Yuki and his is chauffeur he becomes embroiled in the murder and we learn much about the history of both Japan and Korea and we understand the history of the internment camps and why young women wanted to rise in Asian baseball and prisoner exchanges. The dialogue becomes hard to understand at times, as Mas’s English is not always clear yet the author does explain the Japanese terms making it more coherent.
And murder is just what he finds at Dodger Stadium. The Southern California landmark is the host for the World Baseball Classic, and he’s going to the Japan vs. Korea game. His son-in-law is also the head gardener for the stadium, and Mas is helping him out before the game. That’s why he is there early, observing a press conference when one of the reporters drops dead.
Naturally, the police are treating it as a suspicious death. Mas has no desire to look into it until Yuki shows up at his door the next morning. Yuki is one of the dead reporter’s co-workers and the grandson of one of Mas’s friends in Japan. Mas reluctantly agrees to act as Yuki’s driver and translator, which draws him into the investigation. What will they find? Mas and his daughter have an unusual relationship and she does support the fact that he should or might remarry but Mas is nearly 80 and is not really interested in a permanent situation at this time and although he tries to repair his relationship with Genesse it is not on the top of his list at this time since starting to help Yuki investigate the death of the other reporter.
Neko finds out the secret about her grandmother, her father the pitcher who turns out to be her cousin and remains near them during a crisis in the hospital also placing Mas on the scene. Hoping to learn more about what happened to her grandmother and if she too was poisoned he and Yuki investigate what happened, why her parents threw Akemi out of their house during an interview and what was Akemi trying to prove by this interview. But, someone wants this hidden and two men threaten Mas and try to find out where his allegiances lie as the author reminds readers even more of the history of the comfort women, that in regard to her grandmother and Neko’s father’s adoption. But, Akemi is relentless and so is Yuki when he uncovers a secret that Itai had hidden on his computer and this sends him and Mas on another quest to learn more. But, why did Yuki lie about being there for the Nissan Series? Why is he funding this story on his own and can Mas really trust him? The author then relates more Japanese and Korean history that happened during the war there is definitely a link to the past.
Yuki and Mas make their way to a political party for one of the players looking to become a politician but Mas is smart and realizes that the crowd is related to this man and that somehow there is more of a link to Itai who called him to warn him about his homerun record before the was killed.
There are many Japanese terms that are used within this story that refer to people of respect, friends, gangsters and more. I can now read most of them as I used a Japanese dictionary to make sure I understood what both Yuki and Zahed were talking about as well as Mas. But, the plot thickens and just why was Itai killed as the photos on a phone and his computer bring some interesting things to light. Did he take cyanide? Did he buy drugs and who exactly killed him and why? The history about Japan and the camps is quite extensive as is their customs and their familial ways. Loyalties are broken, deceit and betrayals come to light as Mas who might be close to 80 and still going strong unravels the murder and definitely will not say Sayonara any time soon.
The center of the murder is a ship called the Gipsholm where many Japanese were forced to board and were taken prisoner. There were two ships this one and other Teia bound for America. Many Japanese fought for America as you learn more you will understand the rationale behind why Itai was killed not making it right of course. But, sometimes your past can ruin your reputation in the present and this is one of the reasons why someone decided to silence Itai. An ending that is quite sad and a man who will pay for a crime and much more as family discord takes a front row seat, the truths come out and Mas has to decide where is life is going next as he goes to the cemetery where his wife is buried to carry out yearly ritual but this time he brings someone along. Just what is next for him and his family? Will he continue to solve murders lets hope so. Orginal, different and definitely a story about one of my favorite sports baseball but now held in a different light. A grandmother who is united with a granddaughter and many lives are changed as some might say Sayonara but others will take that baseball and possibly have a grand SLAM!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine