4 out of 4 stars
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Masterwork: A Cobey Muller Book by N. Scoto Bowen is a multi-national thriller. Eighty-year-old Cobey Muller decides he wants to venture into the world of body art, but Cobey doesn’t want just any tattoo. An admirer of the detailed artwork sported by members of the Yakuza, a mafia-type organization, Cobey seeks out the most renowned tattoo master in Japan. Shockingly, Cobey’s request is granted, and he prepares to spend a year in Japan turning his body into a work of art. However, things become dicey when a member of the Yakuza with a similar tattoo learns of the work being done on Cobey’s body.
Masterwork is pleasantly fast paced, and the story’s development as a thriller is exciting and smooth. The strange beginning premise, an eighty-year-old man deciding he wants to be tattooed by a master tattooist, turns into a page-turning adventure when the master is abducted and taken to the United States, leaving Cobey’s body art unfinished. The narrative moves along quickly enough to hold one’s attention and slow enough to ensure the absence of plot holes. With subtle touches of romance, an immersive setting, and an affable protagonist, Masterwork proved to be an exhilarating story.
Further, Bowen’s expert use of Japanese culture ensured the narrative never bordered on insensitive. In fact, it appears the author has vast knowledge of Japanese cultural norms, and this knowledge is clearly conveyed via Bowen’s storytelling: Cultural courtesies are explained, intricate details are included, and the Asian characters have dialogue characteristics that set them apart from the American characters. Moreover, the Asian characters are given significant attention and unique traits. For example, the development of Yoshiko, the master tattooist’s daughter and business manager, was impressive. Yoshiko's character could have easily been a prop used to advance the story’s romantic plot; however, Bowen gives Yoshiko ample background and a complex persona, all while staying true to her cultural identity.
Though Masterwork is a fun ride, it is not without faults. There were some plausibility issues, especially with Cobey’s age and actions. Cobey is injured early on, but he has no problem exercising, being tattooed, or engaging in criminal activity. Further, the development of Ginger, one of Cobey’s close confidantes, was disappointing. Ginger is vapid, and her characterization is shallow. This is demonstrated in the first scene when she sees an attractive male on a beach and instantly falls in love. Her plotline does not leave room for growth; my only hope is that she was given more focus and realistic attention in the first book of this series.
Despite its minor flaws, Masterwork earns 4 out of 4 stars. In this case, the successful plotting, cultural nuances, and engaging characters outweighed the negative aspects. This is the second book in Bowen’s series, but I had no problem catching on to the plot and characters. Though I had some minor questions, like where Cobey’s money came from and how his relationship with Ginger started, Masterwork could easily be read as a standalone novel. I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy fast-paced thrillers with international settings and readers who are interested in the world of body art.
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