Bohyo naki machi(The Empty Grave)
Ending a gap of 13 years, this seventh installment in author Gō Ōsaka’s hardboiled suspense series once again features the killer known as “The Shrike.” The notorious fiend’s MO is to stab his victims with an eyeleteer in the back of the neck, killing them instantly with a precise hit to the medulla oblongata. He then leaves behind his marker: the feather of a shrike.
The central characters in this volume are Ryōta Ōsugi, a private eye who used to be a detective in Criminal Investigation Division I of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (MPD); Miki Kuraki (née Akeboshi), a National Police Agency internal affairs inspector who is in a relationship with Ōsugi; and Ryūnosuke Zanma, a former police-beat reporter who is now a member of the editorial board at one of Japan’s major national dailies. All three are survivors of an earlier string of “Shrike murders” linked with collusion between the police and high-government officials. The Shrike from those killings is long dead, and the copycat murderer who succeeded him, The Shrike II, has also met his demise at the hands of Ōsugi and Kuraki—though the grave where he is supposed to have been buried turns out to be empty.
The story begins with Zanma approaching old acquaintance Ōsugi for investigative assistance on two fronts. The first involves a request he has received from his former boss at the newspaper, a man named Tamaru, who has gone on to become editor-in-chief of a rightwing magazine. Tamaru wants Zanma to write a full exposé of the Shrike murders for his magazine. To facilitate this, he says he will deliver back to Zanma some critical taped evidence that disappeared from his possession during the original investigation. Zanma wants help determining who is pulling strings behind the scenes to expose the hidden truths after all this time.
The second case involves a high-ranking whistle blower named Ishijima at a mid-sized steel brokerage, who claims to have evidence of an illegal arms export scheme. Ōsugi begins tailing Ishijima and digging into his background. Then Kuraki is attacked on her way home, suffering a wound in her neck that appears to have been caused by an eyeleteer. A shrike feather is found adhering to her coat. Although Ōsugi rushes to her aid and she escapes with only a minor injury, the incident marks the return of—and represents a clear warning from—The Shrike. Is Shrike II still alive? Or is this yet another copycat killer taking up the legacy?
Tamaru is murdered on the day he is scheduled to meet with Zanma, and the taped evidence he promised to deliver disappears again. Also murdered is a lifelong friend of Ishijima, whom he had approached with his information—the editor-in-chief of an industry magazine. Both victims are found with shrike’s feathers on their bodies.
Although the two cases originally appeared unrelated, a man named Miejima, who was a person of interest in the earlier Shrike murders, emerges as a prime suspect involved in both. Determined to get to the bottom of the case, Kuraki goes to Miejima’s villa to question him, taking civilian detective Ōsugi along with her. It is a violation of procedure, but she hopes to be vindicated by nabbing her quarry. The gambit fails, however, and the case remains shrouded in darkness in an ending that leaves readers on the edges of their seats waiting for the next installment.
<About the author>
Gō Ōsaka (1943–) , son of the well-known painter and illustrator Kazuya Naka, avers that he first began writing detective stories and hardboiled fiction when he was in middle school. After graduating from college, he went to work for a major advertising firm while dabbling in fiction writing on the side, ultimately completing a massive first novel, Kadisu no akai hoshi (Red Star of Cadiz). In order to get it published, he made up his mind to establish himself as a writer, which he accomplished by winning the 1980 All Yomimono Prize for New Writers with his novella Ansatsu-sha Guranada ni shisu (The Assassin Dies in Granada). In 1986 his suspense novel Mozu no sakebu yoru (The Shrike Screams at Night) made headlines, and Kadisu no akai hoshi, finally published that same year, garnered three awards—the Naoki Prize (1986), the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Novels (1987), and the Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize (1987)—propelling Ōsaka into the ranks of Japan’s best-selling authors. His other novels include Shaei haruka na kuni (Shadows Cast on a Distant Land) and Hagetaka no yoru (Night of the Vultures), each of which belongs to an extended series—as do many of his works, including Mozu no sakebu yoru. Although the greater part of his oeuvre is contemporary, he also frequently writes period fiction, and in 2015 took home the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for Literature for Heizō-gari (Hunting Heizō).
*This synopsis is provided with the cooperation of "Books from Japan."
New Karma(New Karma)
A novel portraying the challenges young people face in the Japanese labor market today, with action centering largely on multi-level marketing companies.
Yūki Takeda is five years out of college, working in the Sales Support Department of Morishita Engineering, a subsidiary of a major electrical appliance maker. With the company’s mainstay electronic components losing their competitive edge on the global market, revenues have been on the decline ever since he first came aboard. More recently, profits have been plunging at the parent company as well, and pressure is mounting for employees to take early retirement or buyouts. When word comes down that the usual twice-yearly bonuses as well as overtime pay will be suspended next year, Yūki enrolls as a distributor for Ultria, a multi-level marketing (MLM) company his college classmate Shun has been pressuring him to join for some time.
Headquartered in the United States, Ultria has operations in ten countries worldwide. Its product line includes health foods, beauty products, and other daily necessities. The great thing about MLM is that there’s no need to rent an office, maintain stock, or collect bills, and you can do the work without giving up your day job. If you build a team of downline distributors, you receive a share of their profits, which grow with each new recruit you sign up. Becoming a millionaire isn’t just a pipe dream.
Making calls even during work, Yūki takes this pitch to colleagues at the office, classmates from college, and childhood friends back home in Sendai, but they are all too wary and he fails to sign up a single recruit. Since he’s required to purchase a minimum number of products and samples on a regular basis in order to maintain his membership, his expenses continue to rise. Then his boss at work gets wind of his moonlighting, and warns him that such outside work is against company policy. Meanwhile, noting the difficulties Yūki is having, a leader in the Ultria organization helps him land Ryōko Kanemura as a recruit. Not only does Ryōko have a wide network of contacts from being married to a company president and having her own side business running wine classes, but she is also endowed with a silver tongue. Yūki’s team quickly begins to grow, and just two months later it has ballooned to some 250 distributors. His monthly take leaps to over ¥700,000, and he receives an award from the head office. But the truth behind his meteoric rise is that Yūki agreed to sleep with Ryōko in exchange for getting a large block of recruits from her.
At his day job, Yūki butts heads with the deputy section chief over his MLM activities and impulsively submits his resignation. By unfortunate timing, rumors about his relationship with Ryōko begin to circulate among his Ultria recruits, and then Ryōko and her recruits are lured away by another MLM company, causing Yūki’s income to plummet. A year and a half after enrolling, with both his regular job and his friends gone, Yūki has hit rock bottom. Then his one remaining friend from childhood, Takeshi, comes to his rescue and he drops out of Ultria. Leaving behind debts of ¥1.5 million and abandoning a large inventory of Ultria products in his apartment, he retreats to Sendai where his parents still live.
Another year later, Yūki returns to Tokyo and finds work as a temp. While working at a recruiting agency, he meets a client named Kimura, the founder of an MLM company called New Karma. Once again he has a period of success during which he contributes to company growth and becomes Kimura’s right-hand man, but then an allergic reaction to one of the company’s products experienced by a user leads to a firestorm of criticism on the Web. It comes out that New Karma’s flagship product, an herbal extract supposedly sourced from Indonesia, is an imitation without any efficacy being produced with the cheapest available ingredients in a factory run by a major domestic manufacturer.
Though born without a left arm, Takeshi had studied hard, landed a job with a famous foreign-owned firm where he did a stint overseas, returned to Sendai to win a seat on the city council, and then became the youngest mayor in the city’s history. Like his boyhood friend who went into politics because he wanted to change the world, Yūki has always wanted to help others out and contribute to the betterment of society—only to keep making one misstep after another. As the story comes to a close, Yūki appears poised to launch a new MLM business of his own . . .
The novel offers an intimate portrayal of MLM in Japan, where such businesses are legal but have been dogged with problems of one kind and another. Along the way it probes questions of who is actually served by a person’s labor, and how one should go about making a living. It is an illuminating window on today’s labor market in Japan, where the traditional lifetime employment system has crumbled and the proportion of non-regular employees has risen above 40 percent.
*This synopsis is provided with the cooperation of "Books from Japan."
The volume contains 27 stories linked loosely by a shared theme: the imprint of age. Switching points of view adroitly from that of a small child to the elderly and various ages in between and beyond, not to mention those of animals, supernatural beings, inanimate objects, and more, author Shinji Ishii puts together a collection of tales improbable and often surreal. Lyrical, fable-like stories suggestive of magical realism are the keynote, but with autobiographical episodes centering on the author and his preschool boy Pippi interspersed among them. The effect this creates is of a treasure chest of archetypal stories related by a father to his son.
One memorable example is Yonsai no pīkōto no botan (The Peacoat Button at Four). The central character is a man named Jerry who for over 50 years has been running a shop selling antique buttons in Marblehead, Massachusetts. For example, a button from the uniform of an American soldier who participated in the invasion of Normandy during World War II. Or the second button from a jersey worn by Boston Red Sox outfielder Ted Williams before the war. Jerry learns the provenance of each button from its original owner, adds his own research, and briefly summarizes the story on the button’s sales tag. He has gained a reputation as “the greatest story collector on the East Coast.”
As if collecting stories in this same way, Ishii spins tales set variously in his hometown of Kyoto, in Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan, and in foreign places he has never seen. The son who is two years and five months old at the outset turns five in the final story. He muses over many of the stories his father has told him in the course of the intervening years and months. The peacoat his mother gave him for his fourth birthday is adorned with a button made of water buffalo’s horn and purchased at Jerry’s store. Its story is that more than four decades earlier, Jerry had personally sewn this button onto a peacoat he gave his own four-year-old son. Here, at the end of the volume, it becomes clear that the book as a whole represents Pippi’s own reflections on what he has learned and how he has grown through his encounters—both in real life and in the stories he has been told—with all manner of unusual figures and incidents.
*This synopsis is provided with the cooperation of "Books from Japan."
Hikari No Nai Umi(The Lightness Sea)
A man at a crossroads in his life reflects on his past and the choices he has made while desperately seeking a ray of hope for the future.
For the last ten years, 50-year-old Shūichirō Takanashi has been president of Tokumoto Industries, a mid-sized wholesaler of building materials with upwards of 500 employees. Avowing frugality as his credo, he is proud to have successfully steered the company through difficult economic times by reining in expenditures, but now he finds it difficult to maintain his former sense of purpose and drive. With no blood relations left and having lost his wife and son to divorce, he is completely alone in the world. The story recounts events spanning a little over a year before he yields the post of president to a successor and retires.
Takanashi’s predecessor, Michiyo Tokumoto, is constantly on his mind. Tokumoto Industries was founded by her husband Kyōsuke. In 1976, when Takanashi was 11, a company car in which Tokumoto Kyōsuke was riding hit Takanashi’s little sister Atsuko in a traffic accident, and the girl was left with a permanent limp. Two years before this, their father had run off with a young employee of the coffee shop he operated, and their mother died five years later from stomach cancer. The orphans were subsequently supported by Tokumoto Industries, and when Takanashi graduated from high school, he went to work for the company. This was four years after Kyōsuke Tokumoto died and his wife Michiyo had taken over as president at the young age of 39.
Not long after Takanashi begins working at the company, Michiyo initiates a sexual relationship with him, which they carry on secretly for twelve years. Three years after they end their relationship, Takanashi marries Junko Tokumoto, Michiyo’s daughter with Kyōsuke, at Michiyo’s behest. Junko soon bears a son, but it is the child of a man she was seeing before she got married. Takanashi and Junko divorce, but Michiyo taps him to be her successor as president of the company as she herself becomes chairman of the board. Meanwhile, Takanashi’s sister Atsuko disappears while snorkeling in Bali and is confirmed dead at the age of 24, and a private investigator he hires reports back that his father died at the age of 60.
Along the way, the various difficulties faced by supporting characters with whom Takanashi is close—Hanae, who sells urns that purify water from a street stand, and her grandmother Kinue; Mr. and Mrs. Horikoshi, whose son was sentenced to life in prison for murder—deliver a variety of jolts to Takanashi. He makes it through these trials, as well as a takeover attempt led by Tokumoto Industries’ main bank and his own effective removal from office, but as he then lays the groundwork to reopen the old coffee shop his mother had operated, he attempts to take his own life. The result of the attempt is left unknown.
*This synopsis is provided with the cooperation of "Books from Japan."
Kyodan X (Cult X)
This is the latest novel by Fuminori Nakamura, an author capturing global attention whose work has been included in the Wall Street Journal’s annual best fiction selection and who was the first Japanese recipient of the David L. Goodis Award.
In writing this novel, Nakamura challenged himself to an integration of the madness of people who are attracted to cults and the psychology of how humans are driven to evildoings.
Toru Narasaki and Ryoko Tachibana. The story starts with the encounter this man and woman.
Tachibana and Narasaki, who meet by chance on their way home from a library, are attracted to each other, but one day, Tachibana disappears. Through a detective friend, Narasaki finds out that she was once a member of a certain organization. This organization is a religious circle led by an elderly master, Matsuo, a war survivor self-educated in religion and space science. Narasaki visits this organization and is informed that Tachibana is a member of X, a mysterious cult that has swindled them in the past.
Meanwhile, inside X, unbeknownst to its master Sawatari, officer Takahara has launched a series of dubious activities. A truck loaded with 15 machine guns and explosives. Narasaki starts investigating X but ends up being abducted by them. Then Narasaki, who is sexually exploited by its female followers, is ordered by Master Sawatari to spy on Matsuo’s organization.
The complex, intertwining past of the two masters, Matsuo and Sawatari. Chaotic sex and explosive followers. A global terrorist organization, the seizing of a TV network, and an investigation by the public safety commission. To die for one’s faith or to continue living for one’s beloved. Noir writer Fuminori Nakamura, who has dedicated himself to writing about the dark side of human nature, tells a tale of evil and sex, faith and love, life and death on a grand scale.
Kushihiki Chimori (Guardian of a Comb Making Town)
The end of the Edo Period. Yabuhara in Kiso Mountain is one of the post towns along Nakayama Route. The “orokugushi” comb, the region’s specialty item, is not for adorning hair but is used for practical purposes, its 30 teeth per inch removing dirt and grime from hair and scalp.
Tose, the eldest daughter of master comb maker Gosuke, has been fascinated by her father’s skills since childhood. One year, her little brother Naosuke, who was supposed to succeed their father’s craft, suddenly dies at age 12. Her mother, Matsue, wallows in grief, and Gosuke and Tose immerse themselves in comb making. Her little sister Kiwa searches for happiness outside the home, and discord starts creeping into the family.
One day, Tose learns from travelling kago (litter) carriers that Naosuke was writing booklets while he was alive, and she starts looking for them. She meets Genji, who grew up in the red-light district and who used to sell the booklets with Naosuke, and her affection for him grows as she sees her brother in him.
Soon, Tose comes of age, and she acquiesces to a marriage arranged by a wholesaler. However, her father realizes her passion for comb making and turns it down. In the post town that frowns upon female comb makers, the family starts coming under strong criticism.
Then one day, a young man returning from training in Edo requests to become Gosuke’s apprentice. The man, named Misachi, is extremely knowledgeable about and shows incredible talent in comb making. He makes lacquered combs, which are not part of Yabuhara tradition, and he changes the way they do business with wholesalers. Tose objects to his ways and her distrust toward him deepens, but it is decided that they would be married.
Meanwhile, Princess Kazunomiya and her entourage, on their way from Kyoto to Edo for the princess’s marriage to the shogun, arrive in Yabuhara. Genji, who wishes to change the world for the better even at the expense of his life, is arrested when he tries to stop the procession and dies in prison.
Tose’s elderly father falls sick and becomes bedridden, and Tose continues to make combs despite her deep grief and anxiety. She is also pregnant with Misachi’s child.
One day, a boy, a survivor of the Tengu Party Battle to overthrow the Tokugawa shogunate, comes fleeing to Yabuhara. He has in his possession a booklet written by Naosuke. It contains his deep love for his family and comb making and hope for the future. Tose acknowledges her brother’s thoughts and also finally realizes Misachi’s thoughts, which eluded her for all these years. Soon, she gives birth to a girl. She names her daughter Nao and continues to make combs with Misachi.
Madam Curie to Choushoku-wo (Breakfast with Madam Curie)
Why do people so easily forget things that are invisible to the eye?
“I,” a cat, was living with my family in the Town of Silver Vine (catnip), which humans had deserted. There were only animals living there, and the place was just like paradise, rich in nature and light. But one day, some humans brought me to the City in the East. All the cats I meet in the City in the East tell me how lucky I was to have escaped the Town of Silver Vine. But I, a cat, sorely miss my faraway hometown and family. Then I meet a cat named Tamago. Tamago looks at me and says I’m the first glowing cat she’s ever seen. The Town of Silver Vine was full of light that gave me the glow, and to me, it’s a precious memory of my hometown. Tamago and I share and eat food imbued with the light, which enables us to transcend time and space.
Meanwhile, a girl named Hina, born in the year of the great disaster, has lost her mother and is living with her father. According to her mother, Hina’s grandmother has the power to “hear invisible voices.” The grandmother visits Hina’s house from time to time but pretends to be hard of hearing.
The story alternates between the cat’s and the girl’s narratives in the first person point of view. They travel freely through time and space, interspersed with actual history of energy, Madam Curie, and Edison. They probe into the forgotten past and the existence of the invisible. In the novel, the “light” is a metaphor for radiation. Radiation, which is invisible, is perceived by the cat as the “light” and by the girl’s grandmother as the “voice,” a concept that makes the novel uniquely creative. With a neutral standpoint that views Japan from a global perspective, it is written with remarkable imagination and transcends the boundaries of “post-disaster literature,” many works of which have been published after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. It is the author’s first full-length novel.
Katazuno! (Single Horn)
Year 1600, a single-horned serow encounters Nene, wife of Naomasa, the 20th head of the Hachinohe Domain. The serow is attracted to Nene, and they form a friendship. When Nene is 15, she says to the serow, “What do you think is most important about wars? The most important thing is to not go to war. If you don’t benefit from fighting, there’s no need to fight, and if there is no benefit, you definitely shouldn’t fight. The second most important thing is to not lose. If you must lose, harm should be minimized, and unless you lose in a manner that makes you feel like you’ve won, trouble will remain. My grandfather did not fight wars…” Eventually the serow dies from old age, and its horn, referred to as Katazuno (single horn), becomes a Nambu Clan treasure and is passed down through generations even today. Despite its physical passing, the serow’s spirit continues to live on and supports Nene at every occasion. Her peaceful life disrupted by the mysterious deaths of her husband, the castle lord, and their young son and heir… They were victims to a vile scheme by Toshinao, her uncle in Sannohe. The men of Hachinohe are eager to fight Toshinao, who plots to take over Hachinohe. Nene manages to talk them out of it and circumvents a war, preventing unnecessary bloodshed. Later, she shaves her head and becomes a monk, taking on the name Seishin. She continues to protect her homeland of Hachinohe with the support of Katazuno and other delightful, mystical creatures, such as the monkey and the kappa (water imp) that appear before her in times of crisis. A female lord in the Tohoku region, Nene stands up to numerous predicaments with ingenuity and guts. A story about Edo Period’s only female feudal lord who protected her retainers and subjects without resorting to war. A historical novel based on fact and boldly bedecked with fantasy.
Tsutomu Honjo, a 28-year-old rookie lawyer, is an associate at a law firm. He handles cases provided to him by the firm, but after paying a third of his earnings to the office for expenses, he often only has enough money left to pay the rent.
One day, Honjo is assigned his first murder case by Tetsuya Takashina, the firm’s director attorney. His job is to defend Sosuke Tomita, a 55-year-old owner of a small, family-run factory. When Tomita was threatened by Ryuji Naruse, a 53-year-old money broker, he killed him with a paper knife. Tomita admits to the murder and shows remorse. However, he doesn’t seem to be telling the whole truth, and Honjo gradually becomes suspicious of him.
To get Tomita’s sentence reduced, Honjo and Takashina start looking for ways to smear the murdered Naruse. The victim has a bad reputation, and people come forward accusing him of violence, which the attorneys use as their defense in court. But during a hearing, Kana, the victim’s daughter, cries out, “Why is the victim treated so awfully? My father is not the one on trial here. The killer is!” The court is adjourned, and with the exception of reparation issues, the case seems to be closed for good. However, a hidden truth comes to light… A rookie lawyer struggles, gets outraged, and thrusts forward! A brilliant mystery that will question your morals!