The Sleeping Dragon
Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi (Translator)
A few months back I read Miyabe's newest release Apparitions
Ghosts of Old Edo
and to be honest was underwhelmed. At that time I was assured that that was an aberration in both style and ability and that I should give her another chance. So, I ordered what is considered her masterpiece, All She Was Worth, which seems to be somewhere in postal limbo, and just after I had placed the order I spotted this one on a library shelf. A Mystery! I love mysteries, what a perfect chance for a second chance.
So, here Kosaka, a beat reporter for a rag mag picks up a young boy named Shinji who happens to have sprung a leak in his bike tire in the middle of a coming typhoon. The two begin their windy ride home, when Kosaka's car strikes something on the road. What is it? It turns out to be a manhole cover, which someone stupidly removed... and then here comes a worried father looking for his lost boy.
Who removed the cover, that's our mystery. Actually, no, that mystery is solved almost immediately after Shinji reveals that he is a psychic and witnessed the crime as soon as he laid hands on the lost boys umbrella. Of course the two boys who removed the cover won't admit it, and how can our reporter convince the police without revealing that a psychic was used and being laughed out of the station. Now we have our driving story of how to catch these two. Oh, nope, that's not it either. I'll stop the plot breakdown there so as to leave the surprises for anyone who picks up the book someday, but there are a number of surprises and some mysterious events that hold real tension and make this a middling sort of mystery. However, a number of things hamper the story, including a second psychic, Kosaka being unable to believe that Shinji is a psychic far after the reader knows it as a certainty, and, worst of all, in a real 80's sitcom fashion, where one word to one person can finish this whole story, Kosaka never bothers to ask Shinji for help with anonymous letters he has been receiving. One touch from Shinji and we can rap things up early tonight. After the mystery is finished, Miyabe (or the translator) spends a few pages going over why it was better not using Shinji and the explanation feels like a tag added after an editor gave notes on an earlier draft.
I've found that a number of Japanese mysteries I've read lately (8-4, much of Higashino) feel that a straight mystery doesn't work anymore and so finding the mystery actually becomes the challenge for the reader, or, to look at it another way, one or many macguffins or false flags are used to pull the readers attention one way and hopefully surprise them when the rug is pulled out under their feet. When it works, it works, but it doesn't always work, and I would say here it comes up at least a bit short of target.
The style and smoothness of Miyabe's writing still have me looking forward to reading more of her work, especially the aforementioned masterpiece. More on that when the postman finally rings my bell.
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