A bestselling Japanese crime novelist makes his American debut with a pensive but overlong whodunit that sheds light on power relations in his native country.
It's 1989, the final year of Emperor Hirohito’s reign, a time of portent, and a young girl has gone missing. A kidnapper calls, the police flail about, and parents and child never reunite. Time goes by, and now, in 2003, Yoshinobu Mikami is still thinking about the case, for, in a plot convenience that demands ample suspension of disbelief, his own daughter has gone missing. As Yokoyama’s grim tale opens, Mikami and his wife are in the morgue, hoping against hope that the teenager lying on the table is not their daughter. “This wasn’t their first time,” writes Yokoyama, “in the last three months they had already viewed two bodies of Ayumi’s age.” Mikami is able to take a synoptic view because he had been an investigator in the earlier case, and now, reviewing the files, he sees something he had not noticed before. It’s not really his place to be poking around, though, since he has been transferred to the press relations office of the police department, a job that he fears is a subtle, politically motivated demotion and a move that has soured any enthusiasm he had for being a cop. The jaded investigator is an old trope in crime fiction, but Yokoyama steals a page from Stieg Larsson by using the mystery to probe the ways the powers that be work in an apparently orderly society that masks a great undercurrent of evil and wrongdoing, much of it committed by the powerful and well-connected. So it is in this story, which takes leisurely twists into the well-kept offices of Japan’s elite while providing a kind of informal sociological treatise on crime and punishment in Japanese society, to say nothing of an inside view of the police and their testy relationship with the media.
Elaborate but worth the effort. Think Jo Nesbø by way of Haruki Murakami, and with a most satisfying payoff.