Mikami is a police inspector, transferred from the CID to Media Relations where he is far from happy but doing his best to do a good job in what are clearly the most difficult of circumstances. The actual crime – and the investigation of it – is a cold case kidnapping. Most of the novel, though, is concerned with the internal politics of the police service, its relations with a very demanding and aggressive media, and the taut and tense relationships between Mikami and his various superiors. He is also obsessed by the problem of his missing daughter – a somewhat disturbed teenager who has left home without warning or leaving a message. I found the book totally absorbing, probably because I have frequently enjoyed long visits to Japan where I had Japanese colleagues and co-authors working in the media. I found the Japanese corporate and civil service cultures both fascinating and not a little alarming. The nuances of Mikami’s analysis of why the people he has to cope with behave the way they do is really extraordinarily sophisticated by most Western standards. I really enjoyed this book but I need to warn potential readers that unfamiliarity with Japanese names and the ranks and organisation of the Japanese police force can be off-putting. That said, Yokoyama is one of the most successful novelists writing in Japan today. This, though, is his first book to be translated into English. I look forward to reading more of him.
An interesting book, but very dense. A book primarily about the politics between the press and the police and the personal problems of the protagonist. The characters are not well drawn and it's difficult to care what happens to any of them.
I must confess my surprise that I got through this novel. At 635 pages it’s far longer than I’m used to.
Interestingly though I was ultimately quite intrigued and read it in just a couple of sittings.
And yet… I cannot really say I enjoyed it.
Superintendent Yoshinobu Mikami has recently taken on the role of Press Director…. a position – it seems – in Japanese policing requires the appointment of a police officer, rather than a civilian. It is – however – part of the Administrative Affairs Department, whose staff (although most are also police officers) are looked down upon disdainfully by their Criminal Investigations’ counterparts.
Mikami’s taken the position solely for a promotion and – although he’s just started – is counting down the days until his return to Criminal Investigations.
He arrives mid-way through negotiations to commence ‘anonymous reporting’ and the press aren’t happy with the idea of not receiving identifying information of victims and perpetrators. They suggest they’re best placed to decide what’s in the public’s best interests if the information doesn’t impinge on an investigation.
Amidst this kerfuffle is the threat from Tokyo to make leadership changes and there’s discord between divisions and departments.
And then there’s the upcoming visit from a Commissioner to re-state the police’s commitment to uncovering the perpetrator of a 14yr old kidnapping which resulted in the death of a young girl.
While wrestling with the press corps Mikami meets with the girl’s family and goes through original case files and during this time discovers a stuff-up in the investigation which had wide repercussions for those involved.
This isn’t really crime fiction, though we do plod through the 14yr old kidnapping and are exposed to a similar case unfolding throughout the novel.
It’s more about the politics and inner workings of the police service and its dealings with the media and public. There was a lot of game-playing and I have to admit I wasn’t really that engaged in what was happening.
I did however engage with Mikami and suspect the fact I kept turning page after page was more about his character. Readers are told that Mikami is very unattractive and his teenage daughter – taking after her father rather than her beautiful mother – has run away. That was all a bit left field but the story arc around Mikami’s acceptance of his new role and realisation of its importance kept me interested.
I suspect most of my difficulty with this book was cultural. The translation was actually quite good and it was well written – though the reference to a colleague having cystitis at the end (which bore no relevance to anything) was a bit strange.
I struggled for some time with 'who was who' as many of the characters’ names were similar – Mikami, his wife Minako, underling Mikumo, former colleague Mochizuki, former boss Matsuoka etc. Lots of names starting with M and A. And I am sure non-English speakers have similar issues when reading books by English-speaking authors. It meant it took me some time to remember who was who and it was a tad frustrating.
I'm not sure I'd recommend this but think I'm glad I read it.