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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The next Stieg Larsson?
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...
Published on August 15, 2010 by Patto

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary
Shûichi Yoshida was born in Nagasaki in 1968. He has won any number of prizes in Japan for his writing, and has seen the film adaption for Akunin pick up five awards at the 2011 Japanese Academy Awards. Akunin became the first of his books to be translated into English, and was published as Villain in 2010.

Yoshino Ishibashi is a young woman who sells insurance...
Published on September 12, 2011 by Craobh Rua


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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The next Stieg Larsson?, August 15, 2010
This review is from: Villain: A Novel (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Alientation and Desperation as Crime Novel, August 27, 2010
This review is from: Villain: A Novel (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. Desperation is probably the key to the novel, as so many of the characters are trying to escape the mundane routines they are stuck in, while the larger society sits ready to judge each and every one of them. It doesn't really work as a traditional crime novel, but as a portrait of modern Japan its well worth reading.

Note: The cover has a really arresting design, but it's kind of an odd and misleading one, since there's no sign or mention of a gun in the story, nor are any bones involved in any way. Doesn't really capture the tone of the story at all.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Poetry of Despair, October 9, 2010
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This review is from: Villain: A Novel (Hardcover)
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. The criminals are simultaneously vague and vapid; mundane and irresponsible; unconcerned by absence of a meaningful life and freighted by abstract concerns about the future. The harbingers of the new wave of Japanese literature in English translation were the novels of Yukio Mishima and Kobo Abe. Both were avant garde writers in that their styles were "modernist" in that they broke with many traditional Japanese cultural taboos. Mishima, for example, dealt with such incendiary topics as homosexuality and the facades that societal outsiders must hide behind to outwardly conform to accepted standards. Abe dealt with the problems of the individual in modern society, but tended more toward the surrealist approach (e.g. "Woman in the Dunes"). A still newer Japanese style has lately approached some of these same themes but in an entirely different manner; I'll call it the "poetry of despair", even though its practitioners write in stark and stripped-down prose and their style is devoid of all but the requisite words required to convey the story. Two notable authors in this class are Natsuo Kirino ("Out" and others) and Shuichi Yoshida, whose book, "Villain" was just translated. To read these books is to appreciate the direction in which serious novels based on mystery and detection but dealing with deeper themes are headed.

In "Villain", a murder occurs. The reason for the crime and the probable perpetrator are not much of a mystery. The grim surroundings, the directionless characters, the hyper-realist style considerably narrow the reader's focus. The attraction of this book (and Kirino's works) lies in the writer's skill: not in the complexity or "uniqueness" of the puzzle or the bizarre affectations of the protagonist. On any random page of "Villain" some beautifully constructed by magnificently understated sentence demands contemplation. One can almost literally savor the masterful ability of Yoshida to convey much by writing very, very little. For example, there is the recurring setting of the Mitsuse Pass Tunnel Highway where Yoshino, an intellectually and morally vacant door-to-door insurance salesman and part-time prostitute (although she wouldn't consider herself that) is found murdered. How to set the scene? A hallucinatory and surrealistic paranormal vignette related by a minor character. Local legend. Inclement weather. Remoteness. The approach: "Occasional streetlights lit up the red mailboxes and neighborhood notice boards along the dark street. The road started to rise and Yuichi followed the headlights as they palely illuminated the pavement. It looked as if a clump of light were ascending the narrow mountain road." The town is described thusly, "Fusae turned off the light in the bedroon, sat up in her futon, and, without making a sound, crawled over toward the window. With a trembling hand she parted the curtain a bit. Outside the window was a cinder-block wall with a few blocks missing, and through the holes she could see the narrow road in front. The patrol car that has been outside was gone now. Instead, a black care was parked there, and in the light from inside the car she could see a young plainclothes detective talking on a cell phone."

Yoshida has been published to great acclaim in Japan but, as far as I know, this is the first of his books to be translated into English. I would be quite remiss in failing to mention the brilliant translation by Philip Gabriel, who has done such a fine job that the fact that it was originally written in another language will be totally overlooked.

In summary, this is a superior novel. It uses a mundane device, a murder/detection mystery, to illustrate larger truths and greater insights. In short, it enters the realm of enduring literature, depicting as it does the anomie and desolation of the post-industrial wasteland masses. It picks up where Raymond Chandler's short stories leave off. It is "Desolation Row" set in modern-day Japan; nothing to hope for and nothing to gain.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars powerful look at modern day Japan, August 7, 2010
This review is from: Villain: A Novel (Hardcover)
In 2002 in southern Japan, the corpse of Fukuoka insurance saleswoman Yoshino Ishibashi is found. Soon after the discovery of the dead woman's body, Nagasaki police charge twenty-seven year old construction worker Yuichi Shimizu with first degree murder.

The pair had dated a few times but the motive remains as elusive as the ghosts that allegedly haunt this region of Japan. The cops learn that the victim had numerous online boyfriends and went on mundane and cyber dates; as Ishibashi hated her boring job. Meanwhile Shimizu also detested his cramped lifestyle as he cared for his ailing grandparents; his escapism from ennui was with his extravagant car. Meanwhile as he and his girlfriend evade the police, the impact of the murder reverberates on three families and the communities where they reside.

Using a horrific homicide, Shuichi Yoshida provides a powerful look at modern day Japan through multiple perspectives. The discerning story line rotates effortlessly between the past of lead pair (killer and victim) and the aftermath of the killing on the couple on the run and the families. Readers will relish this tense thriller as murder is the mechanism used to enable the audience to feel they are on the islands observing contemporary Japanese culture.

Harriet Klausner
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better, and more compassionate, than expected, September 13, 2011
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This review is from: Villain: A Novel (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) (Paperback)
I've lived in Japan for a few years now, albeit not yet ready to ditch translations of Japanese literature for the originals. The post-war literature that I've read is for the most part some combination of (i) alienated and depressing (e.g. MURAKAMI Haruki, among many others), (ii) dark and commercially sexy (e.g. OGAWA Yuko, among many others), and/or (iii) wish fulfillment for the writer or readers (e.g., a hit novel about a retired teacher in his 60s who has a romance with a former student 30 years his junior). What doesn't fall into at least one of those categories is for the most part out of print in English (e.g., "A Mature Woman" and "Singular Rebellion" by MARUYA Saiichi, which are both warm, political and fun). Nonetheless, I don't give up hope that there will be some contemporary writers with a more balanced sense of humanity. This book, of all things a crime novel, vindicated that hope -- it was a pleasant surprise.

Another reviewer mentioned that this is more of a "whydunnit" than "whodunnit" -- that's quite typical of Japanese crime novels, though actually this one sustained some mystery (for me, anyway) longer than most. I found many of the characters recognizable from the people I see around me daily. It's true that some of the minor characters don't "go" anywhere; the author may have been interested in just attempting a brief pen-portrait of certain types. But in several others (such as the protagonist's grandmother), there is unambiguous growth by the end of the book, albeit not necessarily directly connected with the main plot. In some of the major characters, the nature of the character development is more ambiguous, but intentionally so -- that's part of the skill in the novel. The social commentary isn't all bleak, either. Several characters have strong networks of family and friends, who don't let them down. And some of the more pointed commentary, as when the victim's father scolds a college student for not having anyone whose happiness is important to him, is apt and well-put. The comparison to Stieg Larsson is pure marketing fluff: this is far less sensational in its plot, but considerably more substantial in its observations about people and society. If you don't mind reflecting a little bit about a crime novel instead of flying through it, this is a solid choice.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Crime Novel, February 5, 2011
By 
John Ore (Pittsburgh, PA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: Villain: A Novel (Hardcover)
There are plenty of reviews that give you the story line. Supposedly Yoshida is being compared with Steig Larsson which makes no sense at all. This isn't a page turner, nor does it pander to fantasies of power and revenge, nor does it offer bdsm thrills under the safe veil of righteous moral indignation. VILLAIN is a literary crime novel. The characterization is superb, Yoshida catches the alienation and the loneliness of his characters and uses the tripwire of a murder to take his characters to the edge. Some change, some rise to the occasion, others don't, but it's all real, an honest attempt by a serious artist.

One warning, the novel opens slowly, it takes a few pages to get into the flow of things, but once you do, it is well worth your effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Aftermath of a violent crime..., February 28, 2013
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FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Villain: A Novel (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) (Paperback)
Somewhat let down by the clumsy Americanisation of the translation, this book is nevertheless a fascinating study of the people affected by the aftermath of a violent crime.

I found this to be very much a book of two halves. In the first we are told of the crime and introduced to the people affected by it, families and friends of both the victim and the suspects. I found the book very slow at the beginning - the author seemed obsessed by telling us the price of everything, from train fares to haircuts to road tolls. I wondered if this may have been intended to show the economic struggles Japan has faced in recent years but whatever the reason it made for tedious reading. We also received more detail than I felt necessary on the various roads around the region. I admit I did think about giving up on the book in the early stages.

This feeling was not helped by the translation which used American slang in a way that seemed terribly inappropriate to the subject matter at times. For instance, a suspect, when recounting a meeting with the father of the victim, says ‘Y’all killed mah daughter! The guy said and tried to grab me.’ This kind of thing promptly transported me out of Japan and into schlock westerns, I’m afraid.

However, I’m glad I read on. As the book progresses, we learn more about the people involved and get an insight into a society that seems very divided between the young and the old. At times, and especially towards the end, the book was very moving, particularly when describing the parents’ and grandparents’ love for their children whose way of life they do not understand. The victim, Yoshino, and her friends still long for the tradition of marriage but are as likely to look to form relationships online as in person, with all the dangers that that can entail. We are told a lot about the sleazy side of society: massage parlours, ‘love’ hotels, prostitution. But there is also love in this story, both romantic love and the love of family, and sacrifices made for love, and it was in these areas that I felt the book was strongest.

Not a traditional crime story by any means, I felt this book gave many insights into a rapidly changing society, a youth culture centred on the online world and, resultantly, the alienation of the different generations. If you can overlook the translation issues, this is a book well worth reading.

NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Killer Stalks Lonely Women in Shuichi Yoshida's Intriguing Japanese Crime Drama "Villain", October 1, 2010
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This review is from: Villain: A Novel (Hardcover)
A twenty-one-year-old Japanese woman, Yoshino Ishibashi, is found strangled on Mitsuse Pass, a lonely stretch of mountainous highway that is supposedly haunted. An insurance saleswoman by day and an internet prostitute by night, she becomes fodder for the journalism rags. Yoshino's parents are shamed, especially her father, Yoshio; he seeks vengeance against one of the murder suspects, a wealthy, spoiled university student, Keigo Masuo. Another suspect, a poor construction worker, Yuishi Shimizu, goes on the lam with the latest girl, Mitsuyo Magome, whom he has met on the internet. Yuishi's grandparents, who raised him, are emotionally devastated; they fear he may be the villain who murdered Yoshino on Mitsuse Pass.

Shuichi Yoshida's "Villain" was a genuine surprise. Not only is it an intriguing crime drama set against the internet dating world of modern Japan, but it is an unique psychological study of how one tragedy can devastate entire families. The plights of several characters touched my heart so deeply that I wanted to cry. "Villain" is a successful blend of whodunit mystery, ill-fated romance, World War II history and creepy horror. Long after having finished reading this novel, the reader will remain haunted by the question: Who are the real villains in this novel? The reader will discover there is definitely more than one villain; unfortunately, only one may face the gallows.

"Villain" is a character-driven novel. Don't expect a violent crime noir with bloodthirsty gangsters, a high body count and lots of gore. (Though I've never objected to this.) "Villain" is a provocative mystery with superb characterization. All the characters, both lead and supporting, come alive as though the author based them upon actual people. Just enough background detail is provided to intrigue the reader rather than bore them. For example, when Yuichi's grandmother, Fusae, was a child, she was forced to crawl upon the dirt to retrieve rationed potatoes; she compares this humiliating experience to the present-day thugs who force her to sign a contract for purchasing medicinal herbs.

Also, "Villain" provides a vast assortment of characters of all ages and from all economic and social backgrounds. The character I detested the most was the wealthy, selfish university student, Keigo Masuo. Handsome and popular, he treated girls as objects for manipulating and abusing. In a bar, surrounded by his buddies, he sordidly displayed the cell phone messages that Yoshino sent him before she died. I felt much sympathy for the reclusive Yuichi Shimizu who was raised by his grandparents after being abandoned by first his father and then his mother, Yoriko; she literally left him alone overnight at a ferryboat pier. However, Yuichi has always been kind to his grandparents and his elderly neighbors by running errands and taking them to the hospital. I didn't feel too much sympathy for the victim, Yoshino, who was promiscuous, worldly and egotistical.

I love my mysteries to have exotic locales. I experienced a slight case of culture shock while reading about Southern Japan. Everything seems very expensive. Meals at a decent restaurant cost thousands of Yen. Either the Japanese are more adulterous or its difficult to find privacy because love hotels that rent rooms by the hour are everywhere. Property must be scarce because bedrooms are measured in mats, e.g., a six-mat bedroom. It is definitely the custom for people to take off their shoes when entering a house and dine while sitting on mats (tatami) or cushions. Exotic foods include teppan goyoza, kaiten sushi, eel and squid. I found it unusual that coffee is served in cans. It is also strange that in December, the Japanese decorate trees with Christmas lights even though the major religions are Shinto and Buddhism. Young people are very similar throughout the world and I wasn't surprised to learn that Internet dating in Japan is as popular as it is in the United States.

If you desire an intriguing, emotional mystery with an exotic locale, then I highly recommend "Villain." Its award-winning author, Shuichi Yoshida, was born in Nagasaki and has written nine novels. "Villain" is the first one to be translated into English by Philip Gabriel, professor of Japanese literature at the University of Arizona. It reads beautifully; I was only a little unsure of correctly pronouncing some of the Japanese names, locales and foods. Hopefully, more of Yoshida's novels will be translated into English. Interestingly enough, "Villain" is slated to be made into a Japanese film in 2010. Other mysteries with exotic locales that I highly recommend are: Adimchinma Ibe's "Treachery in the Yard" (set in Nigeria), Daniëlle Hermans's "The Tulip Virus" (set in Holland) and Douglas Corleone`s "One Man's Paradise" (set in Hawaii).

Joseph B. Hoyos
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ordinary, September 12, 2011
This review is from: Villain: A Novel (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) (Paperback)
Shûichi Yoshida was born in Nagasaki in 1968. He has won any number of prizes in Japan for his writing, and has seen the film adaption for Akunin pick up five awards at the 2011 Japanese Academy Awards. Akunin became the first of his books to be translated into English, and was published as Villain in 2010.

Yoshino Ishibashi is a young woman who sells insurance in Fukuoka City. She rents her own apartment in Hakata Ward, in a building owned by her company and has two friends, Sari and Mako - a friendship based on little more than a shared poor sales record. Yoshino spends what would become her last night out, in early December, having dinner with her friends, before heading off alone on a date - officially with a student from a rich family called Keigo Masuo. The girls had met Keigo on a night out in October - however, while he and Yoshino had exchanged a couple of emails, they'd never actually met since that night. Instead, Yoshino is actually meeting a construction worker called Yuichi Shimizu at Higashi Park - a rather dodgy area best avoided after dark. The following morning, reports start circulating how a body - Yoshino's - has been found on the allegedly haunted Mitsuse Pass. Thanks to Yoshino's little white lie, Keigo is the chief suspect...but, we're told at the book's beginning that Yuichi is arrested in early January.

With the awards Yoshida has won, and the apparent widespread praise Villain has received, I'd a great deal of hope for this book. I was a little disapointed though : while it isn't too taxing (or even that gruesome), it plods along and is littered with underdeveloped characters and threads. (The only character who was in any way well-constructed was Mitsuyo, another of Yuichi's online conquests). For Japanese crime, I'd suggest Natuso Kirino and Ryu Murakami instead - and while Haruki Murakami doesn't write thrillers, what I've read by him has been fantastic. "Villain" isn't bad, just ordinary - and if Yoshida has a second book translated into English, I wouldn't be all that bothered about reading it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling...Deeply Moving...What More Can I Say?, September 28, 2010
By 
Neal Reynolds (Indianapolis, Indiana) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Villain: A Novel (Hardcover)
A young woman is found murdered. That really is all you need to know as far as the plot goes. The Japanese author creates a feeling of unease in the first paragraphs with his description of the scene of the crime, an effective sequence abruptly ended with the announcement of the murder and arrest of the prime suspect.We then slowly learn the details, and the emphasis is more importantly on the why than it is on the who. The titles of the five chapters alert us to this.Yes, there are only five chapters in this book, but they are long ones encouraging thoughtful reading. One should really allow oneself at least a good hour for each reading session. I personally read this straight through because I am a very heavy reader, but I feel that the average reader will get more out of it by tackling a chapter at a time and then taking a break in order to digest what has been read.The culture of the country is a very important part of the novel and we Americans will learn much of said culture by reading this, but we will also be rewarded by a most compelling story that should increase one's understanding and appreciation of the country's philosophy and thought patterns.
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Villain: A Novel (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
Villain: A Novel (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) by Shūichi Yoshida (Paperback - August 9, 2011)
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