Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter by Richard Parks is a swashbuckling set of noir short stories set in mediaeval Japan, where demons, ghosts, and spirits of all kinds bring barely fathomable mysteries to the down-and-out detective, Yamada no Goji.
In essence: Yamada Monogatari: Demon Hunter
Yamada-san is officially a lord of the imperial court, but he has long abandoned his high-born life, and lives as an almost-alcoholic, making money by dint of being one of the most effective demon hunters in the land.
Yamada’s Japan is a place where ghosts and demons are seen by all. One where animism, Buddhism, Chinese magic, and honourable and dishonourable men and women join together to fight and sometimes collude with beings on the other side. Demons and ogres are in fact so prevalent that they sometimes present tangible and vile problems for the population.
Partly because of Yamada’s royal connections, and partly because of his prowess at despatching demons, he’s called to many bizarre situations that ruling lords and ladies find themselves in, and this lends itself to lots of sword fights, a great introduction to historical Japanese culture, and some staggeringly deductive thinking. A good story all round.
Something I noticed (slight-spoiler alert)
After the fourth story, it struck me that females were always at the core of any situation. The idea that women are both the victims and the perpetrators of evil has been going since Eve listened to the serpent and ate the apple. As a reader I don’t tend to condone it.
However, Yamada Monogatari avoids the stereotype with a clear run. Every situation turned out to be justifiable in some way and the justification was always clarified or deduced by the end of the story, and Yamada often risks his own life to work it out, just because that’s the right thing to do.
Instead of showing women to be weak, convinced by evil, or inherently evil themselves, it portrayed them as strong and steely, prepared to sacrifice themselves for their children, capable of love and of trust. Yamada’s faith in their integrity means that he trusts their choices were made with the best of intentions and usually for very strong, honourable reasons.
Will you like it?
Although the book is effectively an anthology of short stories, each one completed, with all its laces tied, it also contains a bigger tale that is skilfully weaved across them all. Parks intertwines the wider picture and the separate tales so that they can’t exist without each other, but it’s an easy read that can be picked up quickly, so if you don’t have much joined-up time for reading, you can still catch a whole story on the commute.
It’s exciting, bloody, and filled with honour and good manners. Yamada-san is a just man, and has the deduction skills of Sherlock Holmes.
I can’t imagine why anyone would not like it.
DRM-free at its publishers, Weightless Books