Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Dark Ring of Murder: Mini-Review

The Japanese police are rather busy with a rash of seemingly motiveless murders--the stabbing of a political philosophy professor from Kyonan University, the poisoning of a popular Tokyo nightclub owner and songwriter, and the hit-and-run death of a recently elected member of the National Diet. In each case, the person who would benefit most from the death has a solid alibi and beyond that person, no one else seems to have reason them dead. 

Natsuhiko Hino is the political science tutor who moves into the vacant professorship at the university. His fiancée, Chisako Tanaka, is worried. Worried because Hino has been different ever since his two-year scholarly trip to America. Worried because of his apparent ties to Aki Kiriu, the beautiful singer/songwriter whose career has soared since the death of her rival. And worried because he seems to be marking time that has nothing to do with the number of days until their marriage. She can't resist doing a little investigation on her own with the help of a reporter who has been covering Kiriu's story. Then when a fourth murder--close to home--occurs, an intricate plot is uncovered.

Misa Yamamura tells an elegant, but very formal story. Whether she has her characters bowing ceremoniously or not, the very writing makes it seem as though they are--continuously--which gives the story an odd feel, but that also may be due in part to the translation. The story is very smooth and the characters are interesting. Yamamura uses a half-inverted method for the plot. She doesn't tell you upfront who did it--but the the unfolding of the story makes it very obvious who and how. The real mystery to me was whether the police (who did not seem to handle the murder sites very professionally--but maybe that all happened "off-stage" as it were) would ever catch on to what was happening. The story is most interesting for its characters and for the peek at Japanese culture and relationships. ★★ 

3 comments:

fredamans said...

I have only read one other book with Japanese culture in it. It was not mystery or in the same genre at all. I didn't get some things though and wonder if this would fail me at times too.
Great review though.

John said...

The inverted detective novel seems to be all the rage in Japanese crime fiction these days. Last month I read MALICE, the latest English translated thriller by Keigo Higashino who wrote the bestselling DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X. It was also not so much a whodunit as a whydidhedoit. I enjoyed it for the astonishing revelation of the motive for the crime. But it was all a bit to clever for its own's sake. The identity of the criminal is apparent for the start. The Japanese like these Columbo inspired cat-and-mouse mindgame style crime thrillers. I keep hoping to find a dazzling Japanese detective novel along the lines of THE TOKYO ZODIAC MURDERS. So far I haven't encountered it.

Bev Hankins said...

John, it's a very laid-back style of story-telling....