Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Amazingly, this is just the second of Miyuki Miyabe's 36 mystery novels to be translated into English; the other was the best-selling and critically acclaimed All She Was Worth which in 1992 received Japan's equivalent of the National Book Award for fiction. Imagine the reverse happening to Ruth Rendell--just two of her dozens of books being available in Japanese.
The Rendell comparison is particularly apt: Shadow Family starts like one of her Inspector Wexford police stories and then slides gradually into the kind of dark psychological mystery she often writes, especially under her Barbara Vine pen name.
Etsuro Takegami is a not-very-distinguished Tokyo police detective sergeant who inherits a high-profile, double-murder case when his superior is hospitalized. A 48-year-old food-company executive named Ryosuke Tokoroda is found stabbed to death in his comfortable house in a farming district being turned into homes. His murder is soon linked by forensic evidence to the strangling death a few days before of a young woman, a college student and karaoke-club employee who was Tokoroda's lover.
On this familiar foundation, Miyabe begins to build a bizarre structure. Takegami and his sharply drawn team discover that the murdered man had created a fantasy life on the Internet: a subtle, frighteningly detailed fictional family where he was the perfect father, unlike the cold and frustrated man he was with his own wife and daughter. Tokorada was also a serial philanderer, so when a stalker begins to threaten his daughter, the police suspect this might be connected with the murders.
Miyabe blends her two styles with impressive ease as the answers and villains are revealed. Of special interest is a portrait of a part of Tokyo--a long way from the sleek electronic metropolis depicted in films like Lost in Translation--where ordinary people live, work and play out their dark fantasies.