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Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

WHAT’S LEFT OF ME IS YOURS by Stephanie Scott: Book Review

And now for something completely new and different.  Did you know that there’s an industry in Japan called wakaresaseya?  Its literal translation is “breaker-upper,” and it refers to a person who is hired by someone, usually a spouse, to lure the spouse’s partner into an affair and thus allow for the breakup of a marriage.

In Stephanie Scott’s debut novel, What’s Left of Me Is Yours, the reader is a witness both to the original act by a wakaresaseya and its aftermath twenty years later.  The novel has three narrators–Rina Sato, the woman who was killed; Kaitaro Nakamura, the wakaresaseya who murdered her; and Sarashima Sato, Rina’s daughter, who was a child at the time of her mother’s death.

Kaitaro is hired by Osamu Sato to seduce Rina and thus provide Osamu with evidence to divorce his wife.  The problem is that Kaitaro falls in love with Rina and she with him, and he can’t figure out how to stop Osamu from finding out about their relationship and how to keep his job while being with Rina.

The novel opens with a newspaper clipping from 1994.  The trial of Kaitaro is beginning, and he admits to the court that he and Rina fell in love and were planning to be together.  Rina’s father, a respected attorney, is vehement in his hatred for Kaitaro and urges the court to give him the death penalty, a rare punishment in the country.

Because Sarashima, or Sumiko as she was known then, was only seven years old when her mother was murdered, all she knows about the death is the version her grandfather has told her.  He raised her after her mother died, and she has followed in his footsteps to become a lawyer.

But when Sumiko answers a phone call from the prison service meant for her grandfather, she starts to unravel another story, the true one.  Her mother had not died in a car crash on her way to get Sumiko and take her to their new apartment as her grandfather had told her; instead, she had been brutally strangled by the man hired by her father to break up his marriage.  We know from the beginning of the novel that Kaitaro, who loved Rina deeply, was the murderer, but it’s not until near the end of the story that we learn the truth of what happened between them.

The laws in Japan are very different from those in the United States and most Western countries.  A suspect can be taken into custody and held for up to 23 days without being charged.  There is no jury in the court; a panel of three judges questions witnesses, decides guilt, and passes sentence.  Rather than “innocent until proven guilty,” in the Japanese system the arrest itself presumes guilt.  Even the accused’s title changes upon arrest.  Instead of the polite san, which is added to one’s surname, the word higisha is used.  So now the accused is Higisha Nakamura–Criminal suspect Nakamura.

What’s Left of Me is Yours is a stunning novel, working both as an intriguing mystery and a look into the Japanese culture of the late 90s and today.  Ms. Scott, who is a Singaporean and British writer raised in Southeast Asia, has done incredible research for this book, as evidenced by her receipt of a British Association of Japanese Studies Studentship and her membership in the British Japanese Law Association.

You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

Reading Under the Midnight Sun is like taking a twenty-year trip through Osaka and Tokyo, starting in 1971.  It’s an incredible novel, one that requires a lot of patience and concentration to read but is well worth the effort.

Right from the beginning, Osaka Police Detective Sasagaki finds the murder of Yosuke Kirihara, owner of a pawnshop bearing his name, distinctly odd.  His body, found in a desolate building, is punctured with several stab wounds to the abdomen.  It appears to Sasagaki that the victim was there for a sexual interlude, but why would any man bring a woman to such a dirty, unpleasant place?

Yosuke’s wife Yaeko, eleven-year-old son Ryo, and Isamu Matsuura, the shop’s lone employee, were all in the apartment behind the shop when the murder apparently took place; given that Yosuke was missing overnight, it’s hard for forensics to give an exact time of death.  Sasagaki follows the deceased’s trail and discovers that on the day of the murder Yosuke had cashed in a CD, leaving the bank with a very large amount of cash.  The money wasn’t found on his body, and his wife and the pawnshop employee say they know of no reason why Yosuke would have had so much money with him when he was killed.

About a year later, there’s another death in the neighborhood.  Fumiyo Nishimoto is found in the tiny apartment she shared with her young daughter, Yukiho.  She was overcome by gas coming from her stove, but whether it was an accident or a suicide is impossible to tell.

These two deaths are the seeds from which the rest of the novel grow.  One of the plot lines deals with computers and hacking, and it’s very interesting to go back over forty years and read about life at the beginning of the computer age.  Personal computers are just beginning to appear in homes, cell phones are unknown.  In terms of the subtext of the plot, 1971 is another world and a distant one at that.  It must be noted that the book was published in 1999, so technology, DNA testing, and forensics were much more primitive then than they are now.

To go back to the first paragraph of this post, it’s only fair to point out a few things that make Under the Midnight Sun a dense and difficult read.  First is the length of time the novel covers and the size of the book–twenty years and 554 pages.  Second is that it takes a while to realize how much time has gone by at different points in the novel–events aren’t separated by chapters or headings with dates, so suddenly someone who was eleven on one page is five years older on the next.  Third is that there are many characters and, of course, they all have Japanese names.  Many of the names were very similar, and I had to keep referring back through the book to remember who they were in the story.

That being said, Under the Midnight Sun is a wonderful novel.  The book is beautifully translated, with a style so smooth that readers will think English is the original language.  I reviewed Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X several years ago and found this novel equally enjoyable.

Keigo Higashino is the winner of multiple awards for crime fiction in Japan, and several of his books have been adapted for television and films in Japan, South Korea, and France.

You can read more about Keigo Higashino at various sites on the web.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.