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PREFECTURE D by Hideo Yokoyama Kirkus Star


Four Novellas

by Hideo Yokoyama ; translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-374-23704-2
Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Linked novellas from the dean of Japanese noir.

Yokoyama knows his way around a police station, as these linked novellas, reminiscent of Janwillem van de Wetering’s Amsterdam Cops series, suggest. Yet a Japanese police station is a place that’s thoroughly politicized and bureaucratic. A constant presence in each of the stories is a personnel director named Shinji Futawatari, whom everyone fears because he has unusually broad powers to reassign people to different jobs, elevating some and demoting others. “Fortunately,” writes Yokoyama, “it was a particular strength of Personnel to nurture posts that were both impenetrable and obscure, enabling transfers that were recognizable from the inside as punitive yet justifiable to the outside as existing to 'strengthen Department X or Y.' ” Futawatari’s life is made miserable by a 42-year veteran detective who refuses to be shuffled from his post for reasons that, a detective ventures, have something to do with “all that other shit.” The veteran cop, who could teach Bartleby the Scrivener a thing or two, won’t talk about it or consider a transfer, leaving Futawatari frustrated and powerless. In the next story, Futawatari—who’d been named a superintendent at the age of 40 and is nicknamed the “ace,” not for his skills but as “a reference to the trump card he held”—is a peripheral player in a cat-and-mouse game in which an anonymous cop is blackmailing a senior officer. The same threat plays in the fourth story, with a politician threatening to expose another top cop, sending the prefecture scrambling to dig up dirt. When Masaki Tsuge, who works in the Prefectural Police Headquarters, pleads on his boss’s behalf, the politico answers, smugly, “If you’re this good at kowtowing, you might want to consider running for election.” The story that precedes it is the most elusive, in which a promising woman sergeant in a deeply sexist enterprise—as Yokoyama writes, “Questions of gender aside, she was exactly the type of officer the force needed”—simply disappears from her station one day.

There’s more politics than mayhem here, but fans of hard-boiled fiction will enjoy seeing how Japanese cop shops work.