John P. Marquand Mystery & Detective Fiction Analysis

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

The Mr. Moto series grew out of John P. Marquand’s travels to Asia as a result of his connection with The Saturday Evening Post, which wanted to broaden the experience of one of its most successful writers. Marquand was fascinated by Asia, particularly China, and used that part of the world as the backdrop for all but two of the Moto books—Think Fast, Mr. Moto (1937) takes place in Hawaii and Last Laugh, Mr. Moto (1942) in the Caribbean. All the books in the series follow an easily recognized formula except for the last, Stopover: Tokyo (1957), which appeared fifteen years after Last Laugh, Mr. Moto, the last of the original series of five books.

In a pattern obviously derived from Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900) and also suggested by elements of Marquand’s own life, the central figure of each book is a thirtyish American whose career has been compromised by shady events in his past and who has fled to another part of the world to escape that past. He suffers from low self-esteem and often believes that he has reached the end of his rope. Through association with another foreigner, often British, often corrupt, the American stumbles into a dangerous situation that threatens his life and that of a young, beautiful, and spirited woman whom he first distrusts but to whom he becomes attracted. With the help of Moto, the man and woman manage to escape the villains. The protagonist also finds that the woman has revived feelings that he thought were dead, and he falls in love with her. He finds, too, that his honor and ability were merely dormant, and he is ready to face life with new resolve.

The change in the main character is central to each novel; Moto is almost a minor character, although he ties together the various plot strands, explains the mystery, and enables the central character to triumph. Moto superficially fits the Japanese stereotype that existed at the time the books were written: He is short, has prominent teeth, wears glasses, and is unfailingly courteous. One of his favorite expressions is “very, very nice.” Nevertheless, Moto can suddenly turn violent; he is an expert in judo, and on several occasions he cold-bloodedly murders unarmed opponents—for example, at the conclusion of Thank You, Mr. Moto (1936), often considered the best of the series.

No Hero and Mr. Moto Is So Sorry

Yet Moto is not a slavish devotee of Japanese imperialism. In No Hero (1935), he announces that he serves the emperor...

(The entire section is 1040 words.)