Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Review of The Weeping Buddha

A koan, in the Zen Buddhist tradition, is a question that cannot be answered rationally, and must be approached with intuition. The most famous one, at least in the English speaking world, is "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" A Koan is a lot like a crime. Often, when looked at by an impartial observer, a crime, especially a violent one, will seem senseless. Crimes, however, are seldom senseless to the person who commits them. In fact, they usually make perfect sense. If a person is to understand why a crime is committed Zen like intuition is often required.A Zen monk makes this point explicitly late in Heather Dune Macadam's The Weeping Buddha (Akashic: 2002), when he says that "Murder is a Koan."
The Weeping Buddha is full of both murder and koans as it follows the story of Long Island detectives Devon Halsey and Lochwood Brennan as they try to unravel the mystery of the murder of Devon's best friend and her husband, and discover how it is connected to a young man who walked out of a New Year's Eve party in Manhattan in 1984, never to bee seen again.
Devon, and her best friend, Beka, were both at the party from which Todd Daniels vanished, and both of them have remained haunted by it for years. When Beka and her husband turn up dead on New Year's Eve eighteen years later, it forces Devon to confront her past and reevaluate all her relationships with the people she thought were he friends, once it becomes apparent that they are all suspects in a string of crimes stretching back almost two decades.
Macadam maintains the suspense by gradually revealing the extent and complexity of the crimes in a manner that should keep the reader guessing as to exactly what has been happening until quite late in the book, and Devon and Lochwood are a couple of sympathetic protagonists who manage to be more than cardboard cop cutouts.
The only weak point in this book is Macadam's penchant for similes. When Beka's body is found she is described as "an origami bird with its wings clipped," "a deer on the highway," and a "geisha doll." That's three separate images in four sentences.It's a bit overwhelming. Elsewhere the word almost creeps into her similes, like when she writes, "Autopsies were almost like the Ritual of the Sky Burial in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition." The Sky burial, according to Macadam, involves feeding a dead person's corpse to sacred vultures and then grinding up the bones. It's a good image, and the comparsion of cops standing over a cadaver and vultures is a good one. That what makes the almost maddening. It gives the impression the writer is being tentative about making the full commitment to the comparison.
In the end, though, the faults of The Weeping Buddha are minor ones that do not detract from the story or obscure the points that the author makes about the mutable nature of relationships and the pitfalls we all risk falling into as we stumble toward enlightenment.

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