A fierce typhoon strikes Tokyo one night, flooding the city streets. Someone has unlawfully removed a manhole cover, and a little boy out searching for a lost pet goes missing, possibly drowned in the sewers. Is it murder or accidental? These events bring together a struggling journalist named Kosaka, who is grappling with the ghosts of his past, and two young men who may or may not have psychic powers. The three form an unwilling team not only to search for the lost boy, but also to solve a second mystery involving Kosaka's former fiance.
On the cover of THE SLEEPING DRAGON, Miyuki Miyabe is noted as Japan's Number 1 bestselling Mystery Writer, known for her ability to write strong suspense novels. Which made this particular book an interesting prospect, even allowing for the inclusion of an ESP sub-thread which isn't often something I'm particularly comfortable with.
But I am very comfortable with something that has a strong sense of place, and a strong sense of the culture that it comes from. Even allowing for the novel being translated, there remained something quintessentially Japanese about this book. Considered, subdued even, the story of THE SLEEPING DRAGON is told in a sparse, careful and thoughtful manner, particularly given the central premise of the book - whether or not a careless or even reckless act is murder, whether or not you know who did it.
The book is telling a complicated story. The disappearance of a little boy, the identification of who moved the manhole cover, their reactions and everyone's belief about culpability. The pairing of an older, life-worn journalist Kosaka, and the young psychic teenager Shinji. The relationship between Shinji and Naoya, and Naoya's struggle with his own psychic ability. Intertwined friendships, the past returning to affect the present, love lost, good and bad new relationships, and the whole catastrophe.
Despite the complications of the various sub-threads throughout the book, there is a stately progression, more than a thriller style ride. The whole book does not, however, concentrate on the "mystery" or the loss of the little boy. There are other aspects to the people within the story that frequently take centre stage. Because of that, this is not a "traditional" mystery in which a crime is committed, an investigation undertaken, and a resolution arrived at. This is a book which resolves a mystery, and looks deep into the consequences of that mystery, and to the fall out in the lives of the people involved. Within this context, the ESP sub-thread is really more about the battle that somebody with a different "gift" in life has in dealing with the consequences of that gift.
I doubt very strongly that this would be a book that dedicated fast paced thriller fans are going to find exactly their cup of tea. I suspect that fans of the crime straight through to resolution style of mystery fiction may also find it a little disappointing, but I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed THE SLEEPING DRAGON. I found the style of storytelling very engaging, the intricacies of the lives that the book looked at absorbing, the moral dilemmas raised, addressed or never resolved realistic and quite challenging. The style of the book felt Japanese to me, but the characters within the story, and the battles that they fought, essentially very human and realistic.
POINTS AND LINES - Seicho Matsumoto
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.