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By Peter Tasker
Doubleday 440pp $23.95

Kazuo Mori, an introspective Tokyo private eye, lives in a shabby condo and rides a beat-up Honda motorcycle. He works out of a fourth-story office in a seedy building that also houses a couple of yakuza extortionists, a shady import-export firm, and a sukiyaki dive where the waitresses turn tricks when they're not dishing out the daily specials. If there ever was a perfect setting for a hardboiled detective novel, this is it. In Buddha Kiss, Peter Tasker serves up a tale of deep intrigue and lowlife characters that earn Mori a place alongside Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, and other shamuses who know how to take a sucker punch and bounce back for more.

This is Tasker's second Mori caper, and like its predecessor, Silent Thunder, the latest tale is set amid Tokyo's temples of high finance--a familiar venue for Tasker, the British-born Japan strategist for German-owned investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Benson. But this is more than a tale of financial shenanigans. Tasker throws a wide net across Tokyo's seamier side and provides a colorful and detailed look at what really greases the wheels of the Japanese capital.

Buddha Kiss is the name of a new and highly addictive feel-good drug cooked up in the lab of Peace Technology, a secretive doomsday cult bearing a distinct resemblance to Aum Shinrikio, the group that not long ago set off poison gas bombs in the Tokyo subway. To raise money for the drug's development and global distribution, Peace Technology's charismatic leader, Ono, turns to friendly mobsters and crooked traders. They, in turn, generate billions via some time-honored techniques: extortion, stock-market manipulation, and pulling the wool over the eyes of gullible Western investors. Indeed, with today's newspapers full of headlines about white-shoe Japanese bankers consorting with yakuza blackmailers, it is Tasker's insider's perspective on the scandal-ridden Japanese market that gives Buddha Kiss its keen sense of immediacy.

What draws Mori into the mystery of the cult is a seemingly random death--the suicide of the daughter of one of his oldest friends. The death is a murder, of course. And the girl, a cult member, is the victim of a plot to blackmail the branch manager of a leading bank into making huge loans based on phony collateral. Asked to investigate the death, Mori infiltrates the cult, only to discover that its methods--and goals--are more diabolical than its harshest critics ever suspected. Along the way, Mori gets help from a young British securities analyst, Richard Mitchell. Mitchell figures out something isn't kosher when his boss, a manic Japanese trader with ties to the cult, tries to get him to hype the stock of a company involved in producing the illicit drug.

While the story comes to a slam-bang conclusion, the questions Tasker raises about the way Japanese financial markets function linger long after you've read his final lines. Buddha Kiss is a good read in its own right--and a perfect companion to the current headlines out of Tokyo.



PHOTO: Cover, ``Buddha Kiss''


Updated Sept. 4, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.
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