The vast world of literature has yet so many uncharted areas, waiting for me to explore them (oh, how I wish one could just give up the habit of sleeping!). Among the genres, on which I’m definitely no expert, crime fiction – so hyped these days – is in the lead. It’s not like I’ve never read a crime novel, or that I don’t like them, rather the contrary, if I do happen to get my hands on such a book I tend to enjoy the story. And there’s still the whole 1000 pages (Barnes and Noble gorgeous leather-bound edition) of Sherlock Holmes’ complete adventures waiting patiently for my mercy, looking at me everyday from the bookshelf… Adding my soft spot for anything Japanese, I couldn’t pass by “The Silent Dead [orig. Sutoroberī Naito]” indifferently.
The first part of the series about detective Reiko Himekawa has been among the most advertised new releases of this month, in Poland, even though in Japan the book hit the shelves more than 10 years ago and was followed by 6 installments, from which only 2 have been so far translated into English. With roughly 4 million copies sold, the series became a tremendous success and was the basis for two TV series and a major theatrical motion picture, conquering the hearts of vast audience and assuring Tetsuya Honda the place among best-selling authors. You’d say that a mystery thriller written by an Asian author seems an utterly exotic idea, but Honda proves that writing knows no boundaries, physical or metaphorical.
Somewhere in Tokio, a slaughtered male body wrapped in plastic is discovered in a park, discarded like a piece of trash. Quite an unusual view, given the citizen’s obsession with cleanliness, and a clear evidence of a gruesome crime. Also, Reiko Himekawa’s chance to prove her worth as Lieutenant of the Homicide division. Determined to solve the mystery surrounding the crime, she’ll explore the darkest recesses of the human soul, the sickest minds of torturers and, unexpectedly, her own deeply concealed emotions… With the help of her colleagues, or should I say subordinates, Reiko finds out that there are other bodies to be found in a nearby lake, of people who fell victims to a series of apparently regular murders, committed by the same organized group. The investigation beings and all the dots connected lead to the notorious, known only to a selected group of people Internet website called “Strawberry Night”. Nobody supposes that this clue is going to open the doors to the ritual murder shows taking place every two weeks in Tokyo’s underground areas and help the detectives to reveal the murderer’s identity.
While placing a young, attractive woman with an extraordinary instinct for solving complicated cases might seem innovative (given how traditional, even conservative, the Japanese society has always been) Reiko’s background could not be more obvious. Honda did manage to create an interesting, real-life heroine who, having been made lieutenant at a very young age, excels at her job, yet constantly feels not good enough. Himekawa knows how to call the shots but does not feel worthy of her position, needless to say she has to deal with her male co-workers and their sexist attitude towards the appealing female boss. To add insult to injury, she is blamed by her sister for the deteriorating condition of their mother, the same sister that has always been envious of Reiko’s professional success, all of which does not make the young inspector’s life any easier. For reasons unknown to me, the author decided to opt for the conventional character, a stereotypical detective with troubled past, and so in the middle of the book we discover that Reiko’s decision to join the ranks of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department had been motivated by a traumatic event she experienced as a teenager…
Yes, you guessed it. She was raped. Sigh.
The very same event has also shaped her as an adult version of a strong, independent, albeit damaged woman.
As annoying as the reader may find Reiko’s character at times, because of her self-pity and pliable attitude – especially when confronted with her long-time opponent Fumekawa – she’s in fact the main driver of the story driver and exploring her past appears to be far more interesting than the whole finding out “whodunit” (I’m certain that the true crime story lovers will solve the puzzle pretty quick). We can relate to her feelings and understand her even at moments that show quite a dubious morality of our inspector (like when she develops compassion for the killer and starts crying over her miserable lot, praying for her life). In fact it is her flaws that make Himekawa a likable, relatable character, contrary to the merry bunch of her silly co-workers who, apart from cracking not-so-funny jokes and venerating their superordinate, do not seem to serve any purpose whatsoever. Except for perhaps the guy who paid the highest price for his courage to take the matters in his own hands, despite the clear order not to interfere with the investigation. Sadly, Fumekawa in the role of the antagonist also failed to meet my expectations. In Honda’s story he makes an impression of an emotionally unstable, badass wannabe, who keeps hounding and mocking Reiko, but on the other hand admires her indisputable potential, surely jealous of her intuitive sense of criminal profiles. Thank heavens their love-hate relationship did not go awry to end up in a cheap romance story! At least not in this part of the series, but how should I now – the book, even though not so bad, did not make me crave for more.
I’ve read a couple of reviews, both from the Polish and the international audience to make sure I’m not the only person who has some problems with this book. It captures your attention at first, but the farther it goes, the slower the pace and the more forced the reading seems. Honda’s writing is not bad at all in terms of language, but the sentences are so concise, so unadorned that it gives you the eerie feeling of artificiality, especially in dialogues and – much to my dismay – the Polish translation from the English version instead of the original Japanese (!) does not do the book any justice. The heavy, sultry atmosphere of the Japanese summer will make you immersed into the setting and the peculiar foreign culture, but after some time you’ll find yourself suffocating, tired with all the fussing about the strict hierarchy of Tokyo’s police ranks, explaining who’s who and with whom and why, that distracts you from the crux of the matter – finding the culprit. The character of the killer might have had a few good moments, but overall I felt like something was missing here, as if the author did not bother to delve more into the crime itself, but maybe that was the point. “The Silent Dead” gives birth to the new star of the Japanese crime/mystery/thriller/you-name-it novel and serves its purpose as an introduction to series of her subsequent adventures.
Definitely not the best detective novel I have – and I will – ever read, but still, an interesting study of the nature of evil, the cruelty that lies deep within each and one of us and so often needs so little to come to life in its most dreadful form.
My rating: 3/5 stars
Read in: Polish
Date read: September 2017