Shadow Family

Shadow Family
Miyuki Miyabe
Juliet Winters Carpenter (Translator)

Here in Japan, as I write this, I am stuck in the middle of two meetings that excite this J-lit Nitwit Otaku's heart. Just the other day I was privileged to meet Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi, the translator of numerous Miyabe novels, including the previously reviewed The Sleeping Dragon. Also, later this month I get a chance to have dinner with another of Miyabe's translators, Juliet Winters Carpenter, the woman who brought us today's subject of discussion (as well as the person who translated the very first J-lit work I ever reviewed about 10 years ago called The Hunter, a review lost to time with a no longer living publication). So, with a smile on my face I bring you another of Miyabe's books, Shadow Family.

A nosey neighbor reports hearing a noise somewhere near the new developments of houses. Police arrive to find the body of a man, a father and owner of the yet uncompleted home where his body now lies.

From here we are brought into what is essentially a closed room mystery, where the main players are brought in for questioning and stuck in a police interrogation room until they can answer the questions that remain.

However, in a unique twist, the people locked in the room are not the victims family, not his daughter or wife, or the young women with whom he brazenly had long and numerous affairs. Instead, locked in the room on the other side of the two way mirror are the internet family that our dead father created in online chatrooms.

The wife, beyond suspicion, is patiently sifting through her husbands belongings, and the daughter is sitting on the good side of the mirror, bravely helping the police by listening to the, at times nearly tortuous, stories of this "shadow family".

As with all my mystery reviews I will stop very short of any more hints and merely comment on nonspecific parts of the work.

The writing of Miyabe and Carpenter is steady and playful at times, as it keeps and gives information like a tease to a needy audience of readers. The work is short, as many mysteries are wise to be, and never cheats the audience, though it keeps things from us as we flail a bit to try and see where we are going.

I would put this one at the top of the works I have read this far of our Queen of Mystery. It's not perfect, and not deep in any real way, but it does have real questions of relationships and what a family really means, and at times I really felt uncomfortable and sad for the young daughter as she listened to tales she didn't want to hear about her father and pushed to find the best way to handle her situation.


Miyuki Miyabe
JW Carpenter