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Your Turn, Mr. Moto (1935)
This first of the Mr. Moto adventures was originally serialized in the Saturday Evening Post from March 30th to May 4, 1935, as "Mr. Moto Takes A Hand," then published as the novel, "No Hero." American aviator Casey Lee is, indeed, no hero, but a rather bitter and drunken former WWI ace now stuck doing flying stunts. He's in Tokyo to fly a plane across the Pacific for a cigarette company looking for cheap publicity. When that falls through and he makes some derogatory remarks about America, a dapper Japanese gentleman, Mr. Moto, helps him back to his room. Soon. Moto, an agent of the ImperialJapanese government, and his luscious White Russian assistant, have enlisted Casey's help in an espionage plot which, to Casey's eventual shame, may not be in America's best interests.
The fascinations of the Moto series are myriad. First, it's hard to think of a writer as well-regarded as Marquand, except maybe Graham Greene?, who was also essentially a pulp novelist. Second, the plot device of plunking down a relative innocent into the midst of a convoluted spy plot obviously owes much to Marquand -- as well as John Buchan -- so much so that it's a wonder Alfred Hitchcock never made a Moto movie. Third, the moral climate of the stories is remarkable. Not only are the books populated with refugees and set against a backdrop of war-weariness and economic collapse, but here, just a few years before Pearl Harbor, we get the ambivalent character of Moto who is not quite a hero, because it's apparent that Japan and America are likely to clash sooner or later, but certainly not a villain, because Marquand finds much to admire in the Japanese. Beyond this historical interest, they're just good clean fun and still well-worth reading today.
-FILMOGRAPHY: John P. Marquand (IMDB)
-Guide to the Mr. Moto Films (Charles P. Mitchell, Classic Images)
-Mr. Moto Movie Guide (Wld Side Press)
-The Mr. Moto Novels of John P. Marquand
-Mr. Moto (Wikipedia)
-ESSAY: John Marquand, Zinging WASPs With a Smooth Sting (Jonathan Yardley, February 20, 2003, Washington Post)
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