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Villain: A Novel Hardcover – August 3, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Yoshida examines the lives of a victim and a killer in this subtle but powerful novel about collective guilt and individual atonement, his first book to appear in English translation. The police arrest Yuichi Shimizu, a 27-year-old construction worker from Nagasaki, for strangling Yoshino Ishibashi, an insurance saleswoman, with whom he'd gone on a couple of dates. Moving skillfully back and forth from the crime to its aftermath, Yoshida describes Ishibashi's boring job in Fukuoka, her fantasy dates and online boyfriends, as well as Shimizu's existence in Nagasaki, where he cares for his ailing grandfather and grandmother, and lavishes his attentions on his fancy white car. Multiple points of view reveal both slight and dramatic changes in a host of other people, including acquaintances and relatives, affected by the murder. Most impressively, Yoshida's complex portrait of Japanese society leaves no doubt as to his characters' actions, but tantalizing doubts about their meaning.
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From Booklist

Though Yoshida is the author of nine books and the winner of multiple awards in Japan (including two for this one), Villain is his first novel to be translated into English. Unusually structured, as much a character study as it is a crime novel, it begins with the murder of a young woman, Yoshino Ishibashi, on a remote mountain pass and then gradually reveals the circumstances behind her death. Was the killer Yuichi Shimizu, a quiet, car-obsessed young construction worker who paid for Yoshino’s favors? Or was it brash college student Keigo Masuo, to whom Yoshino lied about dating? But while the unfolding mystery holds our interest, Yoshida is really most concerned with exploring the alienation of his young characters and the lack of connective tissue between them. As the story takes a surprising turn toward the end, the author saves the biggest question for his readers: Who is the real villain: a killer who feels remorse, or a person who feels nothing at all? This starts slowly, but after 50 pages it’s hypnotizing. --Keir Graff
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030737887X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307378873
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,231,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Patto TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is Shuichi Yoshida's debut in English translation. Some journalists are calling him the next Stieg Larsson - but I find both Larsson and Yoshida too utterly original to be compared to anyone else.

Villain could only have been written by a Japanese writer with centuries of aesthetic and philosophic subtlety to draw upon - and a keen eye for the scene in contemporary Japan. A bizarre love story is embedded in a net of interrelated storylines, all contributing to the astonishing denouement.

The main characters come together on the Internet, via online dating sites:

Yoshino, insurance saleswoman and amateur prostitute. Keigo, spoiled rich kid with a vicious streak. Yuichi, quiet young construction worker whose words flow only in his emails. Mitsuyo, a perfectly ordinary young woman about to be ruined (or ennobled?) by a rash and frenzied love.

People behave in the most unexpected ways. Respectable citizens go crazy. Nasty people show flashes of kindness. Circumstances push the characters out of character - and their reactions of desperation, love or fury seem perfectly understandable. Right and wrong take on a disturbing fluidity that leaves the reader aching with compassion for almost everyone concerned.

The murder takes place in an ominous setting chillingly described: a mountain road over the Mitsuse Pass, gloomy and lonely even in daylight. Crime has darkened this area before, and ghosts have been sighted.

Drivers only choose this frightening road to avoid the heavy expressway tolls. Avoiding tolls is something of a theme in this book. There's a sense that we can't really escape the effects of our actions, or those around us. The past takes its toll.

Oddly enough, this is not a depressing book. I was left feeling that life is amazingly rich, whatever happens, and that human beings are often heroic in ways that go unrecognized.

Not to be missed!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Crime novels are often the best kind of fiction for illuminating a society, and I've certainly found that to be the case with the Japanese crime fiction I've read. They really highlight some of the aspects of Japan that are so completely different from life in America. In this first of Yoshida's books to be translated into English, a sense of isolation and oppression hangs heavily over many of the characters, both young and old, and the overall effect is a portrait of a stifling society at odds with itself.

The story concerns the killing of a young inurance saleswoman along an isolated mountain road, and the people affected by her murder. Moving back and forth in time, we meet the victim and her workmates on the night of the killing, two men she had been involved with and their friends, her parents, the grandparents of a another character, and a few others. The cast of construction workers, insurance saleswomen, store assistants, barbers, and poor retirees is almost a neorealist slice of modern Japan, showing the decided unglamorous side of the country. Through their eyes and voices, the book shifts between the past and present, slowly building a complete picture of victim and perpetrator.

The author is not really concerned with the question of whodunnit, so much as whydunnit. There's only the merest nod to genre convention in terms of keeping the reader guessing as to who the killer is. The book is about the psychology behind the murder and conflence of influences that led to the act. One thing that's kind of nice about it is that it avoids both the familiar big city setting, as well as the really rural areas, instead finding a place of desperation among the medium towns, small cities, highways, and shabby love hotels of sourthernmost Japan.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Keith A. Comess VINE VOICE on October 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a perhaps rash generalization, the majority of modern novels of detection and suspense fall into two essentially distinct categories. The first group makes use of stock devices such as the idiosyncratic protagonist (prime examples: a mincing, punctilious, dandified, cerebral detective such as Hercule Poirot or a hard-core punk, hacker-genius, asocial bisexual with a personality disorder such as Lisbeth Salander). The style is usually borrowed from novelists of a bygone era (Chandler, Ross Macdonald, James M. Cain) or deliberately contrived to be "modern". It oftentimes is, or becomes, almost ritualistic in efforts to cater to a specific readership. The second group (examples include Matt Beynon Rees and Alan Furst) are a bit too clever in their reliance on stock, recurring characters always hewing to type and overuse of historical settings to the point of being pedantic. A metaphor to illustrate my point: these authors create novels like McDonalds makes menus, in that they offer exactly the same fare each time because that's what the customer wants. There are exceptions, of course. The Bernie Gunther novels of Philip Kerr, which use the tried-and-true method but escape the self-parody that almost inevitably results representing one end of the spectrum. At the other end lies Agatha Christie who, despite initial glimmerings of originality, swiftly fell into the pabulum with her tsunami of cookie-cutter sequels.

But, there is a "new wave" and it comes from Japan. It deals with alienation and character voids created by the sterility of modern post-industrial societies. This is the void from which all sorts of aberrations arise, some of which are perversely violent.
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