Great crime fiction seems to emanate from every culture and nation on the planet. While we currently celebrate the great Scandinavian, the cozy English and our own hard-nosed American fiction, many people don’t know the Japanese are one of the great crime novel producing nations. Living in close proximity to a Books Kinokuniya awhile back, I discovered many great Japanese authors putting their own unique stamp on a genre that never goes out of style. Here are a few of my favorites.
Akira Yoshimura – On Parole
Sometimes the best crime novels take place long after the crime. Akira Yoshimura’s On Parole takes place 16 years after Shiro Kikutani brutally murders his wife, wounds her lover, and burns the house down. Methodical and meditative, On Parole follows Shiro as he attempts to reassemble something of a life after his early release, trying to come to terms with his actions. Adapted into the award winning 1998 film The Eel, On Parole is the brilliant reversal of the standard police procedural with the criminal himself seeking to find the motives behind their own horrific crime.
Miyuki Miyabe – All She Was Worth & Shadow Family
The first of many of Miyabe’s crime novels I’ve torn through in one or two hours’ long sessions. Disappearances, murder, and stolen identities drive the suspense in this tight detective tale where the victim might be the criminal and appearances are always deceiving. Through the course the missing persons search at the heart of All She Was Worth, Miyabe throws light on the dark underside of consumerism where everyone has a price and there’s a price on everyone.
They say you can’t pick your family, but you can pick your friends and they’re your real family. What if you could pick your new family over the internet? Shadow Family takes that proposition and runs with it. While investigating a murder, the police discover correspondence on the victim’s computer indicating they were husband and father of another family. Not the result of polygamy, this other family is a child of chat rooms and dissatisfaction. Now, which one of them killed daddy? Miyabe disturbs on a level you didn’t know existed.
Katsuo Kirino – OUT
So, one of your best friends murders her horrendous excuse for a husband. What would you do? Stick up for her in court? Give her an alibi? Help her dispose of the body and then make a business out of disposing bodies? Of course, the later. I don’t think any blurb could do Out full justice. A suspense thriller. A black comedy. A kitchen-sink family drama. A yakuza tale. Out is a one of a kind novel from a one of a kind author. While not the novel of a perfect crime, this is the perfect crime novel.
Kenzo Kitakata – Winter Sleep & The Cage
I’m always interested in stories about creators and Winter Sleep‘s tale of an ex-con turned painter tells a good one. Nakagi secludes himself in a remote mountain cabin in a vain attempt to work distraction free which Kitakata gleefully disrupts. Femme-fatales, needy agents and escaped convicts all knocking on the door and demanding his attention. Somber and world-weary as well as funny and sexy, Winter Sleep defies expectations.
A thrilling hardboiled study in escalating violence, The Cage details a cat a mouse game where everyone is the cat and everyone is the mouse. Ex-Yakuza Kazuya is dragged back into the underworld he tried so hard to leave when confronted by an extortionist bent on betraying his past life. Pursuing Detective Takagi finds there is little he can do as Kazuya extracts bloody revenge on the past that would not let him go. The action and the violence keep rising all the way to the last bitter page. A fast and fun read where the good guy is still one of the bad guys.
Akimitsu Takagi – The Tatoo Murder Case
The locked room murder is one of the greatest tropes of mystery and crime fiction and master detective writer Akimitsu Takagi delivers a great head scratcher in The Tattoo Murder Case. A woman is murdered and the killer leaves only her severed limbs behind. Missing is her torso adorned with many consider one of the most beautiful full body tattoos in the Japan. Complicating the case is the relationship between the lead detective and his brother, the first to discover the crime scene. Cold, methodical detective fiction mixed with the passion of jilted love, The Tattoo Murder Case is a classic.