Picks and Pans Review: Inspector Saito's Small Satori

updated 07/22/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/22/1985 01:00AM

by Janwillem Van de Wetering

These short stories hark back to the days of men's magazine detective fiction, and while they seem terribly old fashioned, they are also well done and entertaining. Just as Rabbi David Small goes to the Talmud to solve crimes in Harry Kemelman's series, young inspector Saito often finds answers in a 13th-century Japanese manual of jurisprudence and detection. In the title story a wealthy American woman, who had been studying the art of meditating in a Kyoto temple, is found stabbed to death in a nearby alley. Saito questions a couple of petty crooks and a boy who has been accused of exposing himself to women. But it is a young Zen priest who gets most of Saito's attention and who helps Saito come up with a completely unexpected solution to the case. In a story called "Samurai Saito," the detective takes pity on a young woman who is distraught because her elderly grandfather's precious marching boots have been stolen by a thug. Saito puts on a disguise, hops on his Honda and heads for a deserted mountaintop temple where a gang of motorcycle ruffians hangs out. Of course he finds the bad guy who stole the boots, and he gets a surprising reward from the fair maiden. The Dutch-born author, who has also written thrillers set in Amsterdam, lives in Maine. His Japan never for a moment seems authentic, but the stories are curious fantasies that, on their own terms, work just fine. (Putnam, $16.95)

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