Onyx reviews: Villain by Shuichi Yoshida
Ishibashi sells policies for the Heisei Insurance company, mostly to her friends
She recently moved away from home and into company apartments in Hakata
ward of Fukuoka City, on the northern shore of the island of Kyushu, Japan. Her parents
are simple people; her father Yoshio runs a barbershop that
struggles because he doesn't offer fashionable stylings and his shop isn't located near
either of Kurume's train stations.
Yoshino's calls home are becoming briefer and less frequent, and she rarely
Yoshino supplements her income by dating men she meets online, asking them to pay for her expenses and for sex in so-called love
hotels. She breaks off from her friends one night, telling them she has plans to
meet Keigo Masuo—a popular university student
she says is her boyfriend—in a nearby park.
When she fails to show up for work the next morning and a woman's body is found at remote Mitsue
with a reputation for being haunted—her friends fear the worst. Shortly
thereafter, their fears are confirmed.
Suspicion naturally falls on Keigo at
first, even though Yoshino's claim that they were dating was pure fantasy. The fact that
he left town immediately after Yoshino's murder
made things look worse for him. However, Shuichi Yoshida isn't interested in hiding the
killer's identity. He limits the suspect pool to two men.
The other suspect,
Yuich Shimizu, is a construction worker who lives with his grandparents and
likes to go for long drives in his car, particularly over Mitsue Pass. He's the
book's most enigmatic character. In explaining his personality, Yoshida invokes the Japanese
word "hikikomori," which describes young people who voluntarily withdraw from society. Yuichi isn't completely
withdrawn, but he is incommunicative with his relatives and co-workers. His
mother abandoned him on a wharf when he was young and he's had little
contact with her until recently. His only "romantic" relationship was with a masseuse with whom he
eventually became obsessed. He comes to police attention because his number appears on Yoshino's
cell phone—he was one of her client-dates.
One of the most
fascinating aspects of Villain is public reaction to Yoshino's murder. People
phone and fax insulting messages to her parents, telling them she deserved to
die because of her trashy reputation. Journalists camp out in front of the
Ishibashi's house, harassing them for weeks after the murder. The book also has
a light supernatural element when her father travels up Mitsue Pass in the hopes
of finding his deceased daughter's ghost.
Though the book is told in third
person, many of the characters are given passages in first person, providing
readers with deeper access to their thoughts, histories and motivations.
The story veers
off in a different direction when Mitsuyo, a lonely young woman who works in
the men's clothing department of a store, reaches out to Yuichi to re-establish
a long-dormant relationship. The two meet up and Mitsuyo soon learns what Yuichi
did. Instead of running away, she joins forces with him on a
desperate and futile attempt to flee the police. They have little money and no
resources, so the outcome of their Bonnie and Clyde relationship is never in
Stories where young women become fascinated by wanted criminals seem to
be common in Japanese fiction: a similar scenario is portrayed in Natsuo
Kirino's Real World. Both authors intimate that
loneliness and alienation are the hallmarks of the country's youth.
the book has is the translation, particularly of the dialog. Translating is a
balancing act between capturing the idiom of the original language and
recreating it in the vernacular of the new language. Readers unfamiliar
with the culture of the foreign language may well wonder what the words sound
like to a native. In Villain, the dialog of the younger people sounds
awkward and stilted, artificially shallow and carefree. Perhaps that was intentional on the
author's part, or maybe it's an artifact of the translation.
Though Villain, published in
Japanese as Akunin in 2007, is Yoshida's seventh book, it is his first to be translated into
English. It's a crime novel, but not a procedural or
whodunit. Police officers are on the case, but their investigation is not
the main focus. Instead, Yoshida concentrates on the effects the crime
has on the victim's family and friends, as well as on Yuichi and his
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