Once again, Murakami (Hard-Boiled Wonderland, 1991) limns in meticulous detail the life of an ordinary young man irrevocably changed by a troubling encounter with another world--this time, in a sequel to his debut novel, A Wild Sheep Chase (1989). Like most Murakami protagonists, the divorced narrator is a savvy consumer of everything current from music to food, but he's also a realist--a journalist who writes unsigned features and describes his work as "shovelling snow--you do it because somebody's got to, not because it's fun." Emotionally numb, he is increasingly troubled by dreams in which former lover Kiki, who disappeared from the run-down Dolphin Hotel in Sapporo, where they'd been staying, seems to be calling him. When an assignment takes him to Sapporo, he decides to stay in the Dolphin--only to find it replaced by a new building. But remnants of the old hotel may survive: a young clerk, Miss Yumiyoshi, relates her late-night encounter with an impenetrable darkness and musty smell on the 16th floor. He investigates and meets the old Sheep Man, a son of the original owner "living in hiding from the system,'' who advises him to "dance as long as the music plays." And dance--another variation of E.M. Forster's "only connect"--the narrator does, as he befriends Yuki, left in the hotel by her artist mother; continues his search for Kiki; meets up with a high-school chum; and courts Miss Yumiyoshi. But he is also haunted by death and intimations of another world: a prostitute he knew is murdered, another acquaintance dies, his actor-friend commits suicide, and Kiki herself may have been strangled. Despairing, he returns to the Dolphin, has a terrifying dream, and though he and Miss Yumiyoshi become lovers, he is aware that "this world is more fragile, more tenuous than we ever could know." Despite intentions and effects that are sometimes too strained: a sobering descent into a contemporary hell--with a guide who's made it brilliantly his own dark literary domain.