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The Art of Arrow Cutting
The Art of Arrow Cutting, the first novel by Australian author Stephen Dedman, is a likable lightweight thriller featuring a mysterious talisman, ninja schtick, and deeply creepy Japanese demons.
Michelangelo "Mage" Magistrale is a drifter, a lover of women, an intermittently employed professional photographer, and generally so laid-back as to be nearly comatose. When a pretty blonde stranger named Amanda asks him for bus fare to Calgary, he good-naturedly gives it to her; in return, she gives him the key to the apartment she's leaving. Soon after Mage visits her apartment, he's nearly killed by a gun-toting thug who's looking for Amanda. Wanting to warn Amanda, or at least find out what's going on, Mage follows her to Calgary.
Amanda's nowhere to be found, however; and while spending the night at a Calgary youth hostel, Mage is attacked by a floating disembodied head and pair of hands. Luckily, another of the hostel's guests is Charlie Takumo, a Hollywood ninja stuntman who may or may not be the illegitimate son of Charles Manson. Charlie recognizes Mage's attacker as a demon out of Japanese mythology, and helps to fend it off. Suddenly everyone's looking for Mage: the police want to question him about Amanda; organized crime figures want the key; impossible demons are trying to kill him.
The art of arrow cutting has nothing to do with making arrows; it refers to the ninja art of deflecting oncoming arrows. To survive his sudden popularity, Mage will need to learn this art from Takumo in both the literal and the metaphorical sense.
The Art of Arrow Cutting is fast, undemanding, and occasionally goofy, sort of the literary equivalent of a Jackie Chan movie. Dedman's writing is uncluttered and often wry. His frequent use of Japanese terms is occasionally confusing, but the glossary at the back of the book helps. Give it a try if you're looking for something that's fun but not mindless.
-- Christina Schulman.
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