The fifteenth day of the eighth month of the twentieth year of Showa
I - The Gate of Flesh
August 15, 1946
August 16, 1946
August 17, 1946
August 18, 1946
August 19, 1946
II - The Bridge of Tears
August 20, 1946
August 21, 1946
August 22, 1946
August 23, 1946
August 24, 1946
III - The Mountain of Bones
August 25, 1946
August 26, 1946
August 27, 1946
August 28, 1946
Acknowledgments and Sources
Simply saying that "This is a murder mystery set in post-war Japan" doesn't do justice to this story. While most of the book takes place in post-war Japan, the setting is really the immediate aftermath of the surrender. The murder which is being investigated by Inspector Minami is only one of many mysteries introduced as the story unfolds - not to mention the other murder related in the prologue...
...Twenty Calmotin, twenty-one. The print of dear faces floating in a sea of flags as the mountains fade, the rivers retreat, waving our flags until our hands are numb, floating and waving. We are bound for Siberia. Down the Shimonoseki Channel, the waters choked with transports and cargo boats. We are bound for Dairen. I lie among the corpses, the damp bodies and the fetid air. We are bound for Shanghai....
The account flickers between the occasional dreaming-and-remembering-but-not-sleeping sequence ('Calmotin' mentioned above is a type of sleeping pill - Inspector Minami can't sleep without them), and waking sequences in which the police inspector leads his team in solving one of a pair of recently discovered murders. Minami reveals almost nothing about himself, so the reader is left to sift through clues - he's an army veteran, he has trouble sleeping, he has a family, he has a mistress... Strangely, even Minami's waking account alternates between a narrative voice and an "interior" voice.
August 15, 1946 (p.30):
There is not much left of Zojoji Temple since it was burnt to the ground in the May air raids of last year -
Branches charred and leaves lost...
The two uniforms lead us through the ashes and up the hill, out of the sunlight and into the shadow; the graves forgotten here, this place is overgrown and its paths lost, the bamboo grass taller than a man and as thick as the insects that cloud the air; this place of foxes and badgers, of rats and crows, of abandoned dogs that run in packs with a new-found taste for human flesh -
In this place of assignation -
Of prostitutes, of suicides -
This place of silence -
This place of death -
She is here...
In this sudden clearing where the tall grass has been flattened and the sun has found her, she is here; lying naked on her back, her head slightly to the left, her right arm outstretched, her left at her side, she is here; her legs parted, raised and bent at the knee, she is here...
Possibly twenty-one years old and probably ten days dead -
Namu-amida-butsu. Namu-amida-butsu. Namu-amida...
There is a piece of red material around her neck -
This is not a suicide. This is murder -
This case ours -
I curse her...
This immersive story brings to life bombed-out and slowly recovering Tokyo, its refugees and prostitutes, the losers and the Victors (Americans), the shortages and the lice infestations, the trains that often aren't running and the police cars that aren't available.
Beyond all this are the changes brought by the end of the war - the Kempetei (Thought Police) have been purged, the unions and the communists are no longer illegal, the Formosans and Koreans gangs more daring, the rise of the new capitalists... but is anyone really who they say they are? Are gangsters the New Japan? Who is cooperating with the Victors, and who is resisting? And are the secret police really gone?
August 15, 1946 (p.30):
Senju spits out his toothpick onto the long low polished table. He turns his new electric fan my way and shakes his head -
'Just look at you, officer,' he laughs. 'Dressed like a tramp and stinking of corpses. Investigating murders when you could be getting rich, arresting Koreans and Formosans and bringing home two salaries for the pleasure. Taking care of your family and your mistress, fucking the living and not the dead...'
'I'm sorry,' I say again. 'I'm sorry.'
This is a difficult book to read, taking the reader through unpleasant circumstances, taking a hard look at the worst side of human nature. Of necessity by its topic, the book includes occasional violence, sexual situations, forensic details, and vulgar language. Yet it is also a haunting story, Kafka-esque in places, and in others like a very serious, grim game of Paranoia. And not everything is neatly tied up and resolved at the end.
Recommended to anyone looking for a unique crime noir or Pulp setting.