I read a previous novel by Katsuo Kirino, Real World, and among other things I found that book to be a little weird and experimental in form and style. I had a more or less lukewarm feeling about it. This book is a little more straightforward as a crime thriller.
The novel begins at a food production facility preparing what the novel calls (or at least translates to) a lunchbox factory–I imagine worrying that “bento” wouldn’t make sense to English language readers. Anyway, we’re at the factory meeting a handful of the principal characters, mostly women working on the production line. The work is physically demanding, repetitive, and boring, and we find out that a large contingent of the work force are Brazilian immigrants and migrant workers. From here, we move on to another primary location in the novel, a casino, where we see a scene between a pitboss/owner having to kick out, and subsequently physically assault, a drunk, broke and harassing patron. This will be an important scene, especially as we get to the actual crime and investigation. Later, the last very important preliminary scene where the same drunk patron comes home, where he’s mostly abandoned his family, and begins to verbally and physically assault his estranged wife. She escapes him, slips a belt around his neck, and kills him. She then calls some of her workmates to help her dispose of the body.
That’s the case, the situation, and the force for the rest of the novel.
What I do like about the novel is the view into a working class, and below working class Japanese society, which is either unrepresented in a lot of novels I’ve read, or the novels are older and therefore we are seeing the severely impoverished or a more peasant/serf class. And of course, learning more about the existence of this Brazilian immigrant was really interesting. The crime and the commentary the novel allows for is also interesting for these same ways.
Style and tone (and as a consequence, pacing) is something that I felt really dragged for me. I couldn’t quite get into the novel’s flow and pace and felt stilted and rough throughout, which is the last thing I ask for in a mystery/suspense novel.