In a story as claustrophobic as the prison cell housing its villain, a nameless, naïve writer struggles to maintain boundaries while researching the life of a death row prisoner.
Nakamura (Evil and the Mask, 2013, etc.) artfully mixes straight narration with snippets of (invented) archival material and correspondence to illustrate the life—and crimes—of Tokyo photographer Yudai Kiharazaka, soon to be executed for the murders of two women. The parallels between Truman Capote and his all-encompassing obsession with the Clutter murders that became In Cold Blood are evident—the writer’s gruff editor even name-checks the nonfiction novel in an attempt to goad his employee into finishing the Kiharazaka book. A prominent photographer best known for a photograph called “Butterflies,” Kiharazaka allegedly—his guilt becomes less and less of a certainty as the plot unspools, adding to the general feeling of unease—set two women alight in his studio and photographed them as their bodies burned. The writer soon realizes that interviewing his subject will be a more difficult endeavor than he bargained for: In an echo of the Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling “quid pro quo” arrangement, the writer finds himself divulging personal information in order to keep Kiharazaka talking. What happens outside the prison is arguably even more disturbing, as the writer meets Kiharazaka’s older, mysterious sister Akari and a famed doll maker whose creations are eerily lifelike. Overwhelmed, the writer tries to back out of the project only to discover that he’s hopelessly ensnared in the story.
While the numerous narrative shifts
require a fully engaged reader, the complex—and morally twisted—plot rewards
with one unexpected punch after another.