Japanese crime stories are often large in scope. They focus on the characters more or less but the writers like to take a broader look at Japanese society. At least, that’s been my experience with the crime fiction that’s been translated state side. Hideo Yokoyama and Natsuo Kirino immediately come to mind. Kaoru Takamura writes in a similar vein.
This work was compared to both James Ellroy and Don DeLillo. I didn’t see either, frankly. Although Kaoru Takamura does do the cultural critiquing in the vein of Ellroy, and social commentary similar to DeLillo, she certainly doesn’t have the hell-for-leather writing style of the former, nor the postmodern bent of the latter. I think she invites those comparisons by showing how her characters are helplessly trapped in Japan’s postwar, post-recession patriarchal society, which still to this day borders on feudalism.
And she does a good job with it; I wouldn’t have read 576 dense pages of this had she not. The problem is, at least “problem” as far as keeping this book from being great, is that she builds her characters by focusing on the banality of their respective jobs. That may make sense in terms of looking at Japan’s structures but it kind of grinds the characters down and makes them seem independent of their stations in life. Which may be the point. But it doesn’t make for the most exciting reading.
The way she layers the crime story is effective. I enjoyed large parts of it and I look forward to volume two. But I wasn’t invested in the characters enough to really be as moved by the story as I like. I think this was intended to be published as one volume so maybe the second one will lend some clarity in this regard.