A prominent official in a ministry tinged with scandal. A dining car receipt. A name missing from a passenger list. And a young man and woman dead on a beach in an apparent suicide - lovers who had one final drink together. Disconnected points, but not to Detective Torigai, who keeps searching for the lines that link the dead and the living.
This has been a book that's been in the back of my mind as a "must read" for a long time. It combines that most fascinating (to me) of components of crime fiction - a mystery and an insight into life and the thinking of another culture - one that's totally different to my own. Whilst a lot of "authority" want the death of the young couple to just be written down to "Love suicide", Detective Torigai is not so sure. Kenichi Sayama has that dining car receipt in his wallet, it's from the last train journey witnesses say he boarded with Otoki. Yet the receipt only mentions a meal for one. Then there's the assumption that Kenichi and Otoki are lovers, but nobody seems to have known anything about the affair - and they both, in their own way, seem to have been very private, almost lonely people. And there's the scandal's within the MInistry where Kenichi works.
The suspicion that something is not right is eventually picked up by a higher up / Tokyo based investigator, Kiichi Mihara, who agrees with Torigai that something is not right. But proving that there was somebody else involved proves incredibly difficult.
The ultimate solution to the crime comes from so deep within the Japanese psychology that it's completely fascinating. The country runs on its train system - the main method of moving around is via the trains, and a woman's obsession with reading timetables doesn't seem at all strange to Mihara. Mind you, he's as immersed in timetables as her, as he tries to understand who could possibly have been where when Otoki and Kenichi died.
All in all a fascinating mystery and a fabulous peek at Japanese life.
The corpse of an unknown man is discovered under the rails of a train in a Tokyo station, and Inspector Imanishi is assigned to the case. Inspector Imanishi is a wonderfully Japanese man ... Haiku poet, gardener and the most dogged homicide detective on the Tokyo police force.
INSPECTOR IMANISHI INVESTIGATES is the first Japanese written crime / mystery book that I can remember reading for quite some time, and it must have worked as I've been tracking down other examples and other authors to try.
When an unidentified (and it soon appears) difficult to identify man is found under the rails of a Tokyo Station early one morning, he's been strangled and dumped on the rails - seemingly in an attempt to take away any further chance of identifying him when the first train of the morning ran over the corpse.
I'll admit it - I found Inspector Imanishi incredibly engaging. The style of language in the book is slightly formal - I guess partly because of the publication date (1961 for the Japanese version) and partly because it is Japanese - and they seem to be a considerably more formal people than what I'm used to. Rather than provide any form of dating for the book, it simply placed it formally in another culture - a culture considerably different from ours. There's the lovely ritual of exchanging name cards, there is the formal methods of addressing each other, there is even a formal courtesy to Imanishi's relationship with his wife which just appealed immensely.
The investigation itself proceeds very very slowly - this is 1967 after all and inquiries are frequently done in writing, in formal letters. Movement around the country is done by train, some inquiries are hampered by the destruction of records at the end of the Second World War. Sure there are some technological aspects - maybe these were glimpses forward to the technological giant that Japan has since become - but in some ways the mystery, while central to the plot, was less interesting than the characterisations, the Inspector, the food (I was consistently craving food throughout this book) and the tremendous sense of place.