DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Art of Arrow Cutting
by Stephen Dedman
Tor/pp. 285/ $22.95
isbn 0-312-86320-9

Yadomejutsu, the art of arrow cutting, is a technique used to literally evade arrows (or anything else that might be thrown at you with deadly intent.) It is a physical art, but as any true practitioner of the martial arts will tell you, yadomejutsu is derived from the strength of the mind and the spirit as much as the body. In The Art of Arrow Cutting Australian writer Stephen Dedman has combined the reasoning of a sleuth, the heart of well-drawn characters, and the physical grit of suspense with an additional element -- magic -- to produce an enticing and exotic debut novel that enchants the reader.

As in much of his short fiction, Dedman casts a charming drifter as protagonist. Michelangelo Magistrale (Mage for short) is, more or less, a professional photographer. Handsome, 23 years old, "with little ambition and less greed," Mage has "a cool head, a long reach, excellent reflexes, and the knack of anticipating his opponent by watching his eyes." He also has a way with women that provides him more than just a bed almost anywhere he travels. Naturally, it's a beautiful girl named Amanda, who generates the plot. Mage meets this somewhat distressed damsel in the bus terminal of a small Canadian town. She gives him an apartment key on a braided thong in exchange for his kindness before she disappears via Greyhound.

It soon becomes apparent that bad guys are after Amanda, Mage sets out to find and, somehow, help her. Then something really bad shows up -- a rukoro-kubi, a bakemono (Japanese evil goblin) that travels and wrecks havoc as a head and a pair of hands. Luckily, Mage's sidekick, Charlie Takumo, a modern day ninja stunt man knows something about these things. Although the two of them have no idea that the magic monster's master is a powerful financial wizard, named Takemaga, with connections to the yakuza (the Japanese mafia), they know they are up against some pretty bad dudes.

Amanda's gift turns out to be something magical, the financial wizard really is a wizard, and the girl turns up dead. Accused of her murder, Mage (assisted by Charlie) must find the real killer. They begin to learn to use the magic they find they possess, but they've crossed Takemaga who is in full possession of his powers -- both supernatural and criminal -- and the protagonists must parry quivers full of danger.

Dedman's skillful and smoothly cinematic writing builds a world in which the supernatural is more believable than the plots of any chambara, those movies with more grunts, blood, and action than authentic martial arts. With Dedman guiding us, we can believe in a rukoro-kubi or a mujina (a faceless bakemono who can assume human disguise) as easily as we believe that there are people obsessed with greed and to whom human life has little value. Tattoos that come to life become as real to us as the hot, gritty concrete of L.A. And, for all the suspenseful fun and action-packed fantasy adventure we have along the way, there is a underlying intensity to The Art of Arrow Cutting that shows Dedman is capable of depth as well as engaging entertainment.

Domo arigato gozaimasu, Dedman-san, for a great read. -- Paula Guran

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Copyright © 2002 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.