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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Good, but Occasionally Forced and Clumsy
on June 12, 2002
Miyabe's first book in translation is a solid mystery with an engaging investigator, but suffers slightly from an occasionally lecturing tone. The story revolves around a widowed middle-aged Tokyo police detective who's on injury leave when a distant relative asks him to look into the disappearance of his fiancée. This missing persons case soon turns into what we would now call a case of identity theft as the detective delves into the woman's background.
The protagonist, with his dogged determination to uncover the truth, is an engaging world-weary PI familiar to the genre, and yet still enjoyable. His precocious adolescent boy adds a measure of humanity to him, and you know that at some point, the boy will unwittingly say something important to the investigation. The people he interviews, from a personal bankruptcy lawyer, to a mail-order executive, to hostess bar ladies, all have their own motives and personalities which bring the story to life. A mechanic who becomes his assistant is another great character, brimming with humanity.
The story revolves around consumer credit and its corrupting influences on young people-a problem that while still relevant, is hardly likely to be as surprising to the reader as it is to the detective. There are several sections on the book where long lectures on the history and evils of consumer credit, and the mechanisms of personal bankruptcy are explained. These tend to be clumsy and forced, and the story suffers from them. While it's moderately informative to know that Japan shares the problem with the US (and other wealthy nations), it's not nearly as interesting as the other main device of the novel, the family register. The Japanese system of tracking people via family registers is a method unknown in the US, and as the story shows, easily subverted. Unfortunately, this potentially interesting device is rather confusing to the outsider, and some passages may require rereading in order to absorb the procedures involved. Ultimately, these two elements feel very mechanical when contrasted with the excellent characters found in the story itself, and the climax is enervatingly unsatisfying.