Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Mr Moto

Today in the mail I received John P. Marquand's Stopover: Tokyo (1956). It is the last of six Mr. Moto novels and the only one set after World War II. In the pre-war books Moto is an agent of Imperial Japan and most of the stories take place in a China then being invaded by the Japanese. Moto himself is sometimes portrayed as at odds with the militarists. The last of the pre-war books was written in 1941 before Pearl Harbor. Moto was on hiatus during the war but reappears in this book, still serving in Japanese intelligence but now allied with US intelligence. Most of the Mr. Motos were serialized in magazines before coming out as books. I think I first read this one in the Saturday Evening Post. I would have been ten years old. The dust cover is in bad shape but has been carefully conserved. The book itself is a first edition and is in quite good condition. Quoting from the dust cover:
STOPOVER: TOKYO brings to life with an electrical crackle of tension a struggle for supremacy in the neon-lighted maze of postwar Tokyo. More than sharing honors with Mr. Moto in the story are the young American Intelligence agent Jack Rhyce and his beautiful associate Ruth Bogart, also of Intelligence and posing as his secretary. Jack's mission: to break up a Communist espionage and terrorist ring in Tokyo known to be planning anti-American riots and political assassination.

Under the cover of working with a seemingly innocuous organization called the Asia Friendship League, Jack was to try to locate and silence Skirov, the Russian rumored to be masterminding the Communist secret apparatus. In addition, he was to find and put out of commission an unidentified American presumed to be next-in-command to Skirov. Reports had been received from certain left-wing sources that Skirov and the American were soon due to meet in Tokyo. When they did, the fireworks would start. It was up to Jack to keep them from going off.

Even in San Francisco, where Jack and Ruth first met, they realized that unknown parties were watching them. By the time their plane had landed in Tokyo they knew their chances of making a fatal mistake were dangerously increased by the fact that they were falling in love. And from Gibson, their Tokyo contact, they quickly found that the "harmless" Asia Friendship League was far less harmless than it seemed. Into an increasingly complex pattern of plot and counterplot slips a third character—the ubiquitous Mr. Moto. To Jack Rhyce he is not immediately recognizable as friend or enemy, but it is through his agency that the mounting pressure is brought to the danger point and the velvet Japanese night is made to erupt in violence.
Last week I watched all eight of the Mr. Moto movies starring Peter Lorre. The last of those was produced in 1939. In the films Moto works for the "International Police" or another employer rather than the Imperial government. I found they held up rather well for me as light entertainment. The books by Marquand, who was a serious novelist, are better, or at least that's how I remember them. It will be interesting to find out.

The Wikipedia entry on Moto — both the books and the films — is pretty good.

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