Friday, May 13, 2016

Sayonara SLAM by Naomi Hirahara

What a fascinating character! I had never read one of Naomi Hirahara's mysteries featuring Mas Arai, the almost retired gardner who is nearing eighty. The mystery in Sayonara SLAM was interesting. But, the true mystery revealed, and, never completely revealed because he is such a private man, is the character of Mas Arai himself.

Mas, his family and friends are at Dodger Stadium for the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Japan vs. South Korea. Because Mas' son-in-law is head groundskeeper, Arai is down on the field before the game with the sportswriters who are there from Japan to cover the game. So, he witnesses the death of one of them, a death that turns out to be murder. Before he knows it, a young Japanese journalist shows up at Mas' house, asking for his help as a translator and driver. Mas finds himself harassed by thugs, threatened, and involved in a case involving Japanese politics and secrets from the past.

Mas Arai's history makes him the man he is today, a private man who "often let life happen to him". He was born in the U.S., but taken to Japan as a small boy. And, he was in Hiroshima, a young survivor, when it was bombed. He's a widower, a private man, who is seeing a woman. But, he's worried about that. "If he opened his heart to Geneses, really opened it, wouldn't his decades of life with Chizuko fall and blow away like dead leaves?" These are the kind of deep questions Hirahara uses to portray Mas Arai, thoughtful questions of culture, belief, and an aging man who grew up with beliefs that are no longer common in 2009.

He's a man who would never share his life on social media. In fact, when Yuki questions him, Mas' reaction is, "Yuki had no right to his personal stories. They were Mas's to hold close and protect. Once they were released in the form of words, they could be mangled and distorted."

The mystery in Hirahara's Sayonara SLAM is an intriguing one, and there are historical events that I had never heard. I looked them up because I was so interested. But, to be honest, it's the intriguing character of Mas Arai that will draw me back to the books. Hirahara's descriptions of Mas' feelings and thoughts are beautiful. It's poetry with a depth that makes the reader think. You may pick up the book as a mystery. You'll appreciate it as a study of a man with great wisdom.

Naomi Hirahara's website is

Sayonara SLAM by Naomi Hirahara. Prospect Park Books. 2016. ISBN 9781938849732 (paperback), 228p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I've read some of the short stories featuring him, and agree they are quite interesting.

Mark Baker said...

I have only read the first book and this book in the series, and I agree that the character is wonderful. I wish I'd been reading them in order because I think I would have gotten even more from this book.

Lesa said...

Mark, I agree with you. This is the only one I read, and I think I would have gotten more out of as well if I had been following the character.