The Art of Arrow Cutting
by Stephen Dedman
Review by James Walton

The Art of Arrow Cuttingreads a great deal like a movie script. Each scene, and scenes they definitely are, seem to be taken directly from any of the dozens of Normal Guy turns Action Hero movies that were popular during the '80s and '90s. (They may still be popular; I don't know.)

You know the type of movie I mean. Dull, innocent, nice guy runs into a beautiful damsel in distress and the bad guys chasing the lady assume Mr. Dull is involved because he helped her change a tire, buy a newspaper, etc. Mr. Dull must immediately learn to protect himself while searching for the Damsel and unraveling the mystery.

While these movies are usually in mundane settings, there is no eason why fantasy elements can't be added. I have to wonder though if Mr. Dedman wrote his novel in this manner because he has watched so many movies, or if he had a possible movie deal in mind.

As a matter of fact, Arrow reminds me a great deal of Neil Gaiman's novel Neverwhere, which started life as a TV script. Alas, while Neverwhere seemed to soar beyond its meager beginnings, The Art of Arrow Cutting never seems to rise above its apparent movie origins.

Michelangelo Magistrale is pretty much a ne'er-do-well and a drifter. He makes his living as a professional photographer for menŐs magazines. When between jobs he drifts about the country sponging money and sexual favors from the women he photographs. He prefers to be called Mage, which gives us a clue about him.

While en route to an assignation with one of his many conquests, Mage encounters Amanda, who is beautiful but troubled looking. After knowing him for 3 minutes Amanda asks Mage for money and gives him an odd key tied to an even odder piece of twine. As she disappears Mage snaps a picture of Amanda with his ever present camera.

Mage never sees Amanda again but the die is already cast. The Bad Guys, in the form of the Yakuza, come looking for Amanda and find Mage instead. And what an assortment of Bad Guys they are: a bumbling hit man who sleeps with his guns, an accountant/assassin who pays his secretary to watch his back, a Japanese vampire who appears as a disembodied head and pair of hands, a woman with no face, a small army of beautiful girl ninjas, and the Boss, an incredibly rich and mysterious wizard.

Mage has entered a world of magic and intrigue at a very mundane level. All the Bad Guys may be magical but none of them have the wit or imagination to elevate themselves above mundane concerns. They are all content to be petty criminals in an organized crime syndicate. Is being a crime lord really the best way to control the Earth?

Mage soon learns that the key Amanda gave him is a lot more than it seems, enabling him to fight Bad Guys even though he has no idea of what is Going On.

Of course the hero picks up companions during his adventure: we must adhere to traditions. Charlie is a movie stunt man and a martial arts expert. Kelly is a lawyer who keeps several semi-legal weapons in her apartment. They both come to Mage's aide and place themselves in danger after they've known him for a short time.

With his two friends, Mage must figure out What is Going On in time to save all of them and defeat the Bad Guys.

Despite several near death situations, the trio never really act as if they think they are in danger. They open the door to anyone who knocks, talk freely about their plans on the telephone, and in general behave as if they were characters in a so-so movie.

If it were not for the inclusion of Japanese monsters and magic, Arrow would be deathly dull. Using a Japanese vampire as an assassin is a nice touch even though it was never frightening.

I am very glad I didn't buy this one in hard back. I didn't hate it but I really can't recommend it. Perhaps the movie will be better?

By the way, The Art of Arrow Cutting, from which the book derives its title, is a sub-discipline of a sub-group of Japanese martial arts.

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