Gardener as L.A. protagonist

Mas Arai, "a diminutive man in his late 60s with a dwindling number of regular customers whose yards he tends with loving care and a practiced eye," is the center of the new L.A. crime novel, Summer of the Big Bachi, by Naomi Hirahara. Paula L. Woods writes in today's LAT Book Review:

The best Los Angeles crime fiction is distinguished by its ability to transport readers to unfamiliar corners in our multicultural metropolis. The house-proud black neighborhoods sleuthed by Walter Mosley's midcentury detective Easy Rawlins, the gay and lesbian enclaves of Katherine V. Forrest's Kate Delafield police procedurals, the Persian American elite and other diverse groups investigated by John Shannon's P.I. Jack Liffey all leave readers more knowledgeable than they started about people seen only from a distance and lives imagined only in the broadest of outlines.

For her first novel, "Summer of the Big Bachi," Naomi Hirahara has chosen as her hero another iconographic albeit little-known figure in the Los Angeles landscape the Japanese American gardener.

It's set in current times, but Arai drives a solid 1956 Ford through "the breadth of Japanese American Los Angeles, treating readers to snippets of the Japanese language in addition to well-drawn scenes in Crenshaw District homes still occupied by elderly Japanese, San Fernando Valley ramen shops, hostess bars on Sawtelle Boulevard that cater to Japanese businessmen, Gardena bowling alleys and illegal card games in Little Tokyo."

Also in the Book Review: Aram Saroyan critiques Charles Bukowski, writing "more problematic to me is a younger generation, including actors [Mickey] Rourke, Sean Penn and Michael Madsen, who long ago awarded Bukowski a literary crown and laurel wreath. At the risk of ticking off one or more of these rumble-prone eminences, I need to protest. I know he's easy and enjoyable reading, my brothers, and I don't scoff at that, but so are Salinger, Hemingway and, well, Albert Camus to name only three and contrary to his own notions, Buk doesn't make it into their company."


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