Part of the reason I am so drawn to books translated into English is the desire to really feel transported to another place, another culture. For some reason Japan has always felt particularly foreign to me. Maybe this is due to the fact I have read so few books written by Japanese authors or with a Japanese setting. The Japanese language holds no familiarity for me either. I can understand a tiny bit of most romance languages. I've traveled to Europe and have read lots of books set there. I am more familiar with European culture and history, but Japan is an almost unknown quantity. So Shuichi Yoshida's debut crime novel, Villain, is proving to be a very tantalizing look into a place that is utterly exotic. I think if I traveled there I would feel very much at swim and maybe a little disoriented by it.
Pardon me, please, if I am staring. That's a little how I feel as I immerse myself into this unsettling world. The nice thing about a book is I can literally be like a fly on the wall. I can look into this story and even gawk a little but not worry about how or if my reaction is registering in a curious way.
So, the set up . . . I know there is going to be a murder. And I am, at the moment, being introduced to the victim. Normally a reader is sympathetic to the person who is murdered even if their presence is only after the fact. Sometimes they are already gone before the story even begins. So what happens if the victim is being introduced and they are not terribly likable? I might even already have met the murderer, too, but we're still building up to that moment.
She, the victim, is a young woman. She's an only child. An impatient daughter with not so much time for her parents. She lives in housing provided by her work, though her parents would have wished she would have stayed home and simply commuted to her job. She's not cruel, or not much, anyway. But she lies to her friends. Two other young women who also live in the same building and work the same job make up her small group of friends. She pretends Keigo, a young man she met, is her sometimes boyfriend and has come up with an elaborate story about their relationship. She takes a perverse pleasure in pitting one friend against the other in a way that makes life easiest for herself. And sheds the best light on herself. Her name is Yoshino. And while she tells her friends she is meeting her 'boyfriend', she is actually going off with another young man she met through an online dating service. Her dates, the few she has had, consist of meeting at a love hotel. You get the idea, right?
So here we are, setting the stage for the story, creating a picture of Yoshino and throwing in a person or two who might potentially turn out to be our murderer.
"Yoshino was proud that she was the only one Keigo had asked for her e-mail address when they'd met in the bar. And that pride had led her, when Sari had first asked if he'd sent her a message, to suddenly lie: 'Yeah, he did. I'm going to see him this weekend.' When the weekend came, she had her two friends check her hair and makeup, and they gave her a cheery send-off as she left the apartment. The white lie she'd told ballooned into something out of her control, and she wound up taking the Nishitetsu line back to her parents' home to kill the day there."
Needless to say I am quite curious to see where exactly this story is going. Am I going to feel sympathy for Yoshino? Does it matter ultimately? One of the things I like in particular about this story is how descriptive Yoshida is in his storytelling. Even though I know nothing about the place, I still feel like I can create an image in mind when he talks about places and streets and all the things special to Japan that we do not have here. It is a different kind of education--one that is both new and interesting and it is all wrapped up in a mystery. This is a crime novel with a psychological slant to it. I'm wondering why so much attention is being paid to the cost of things in this society. We seem to be told quite often how much something costs. Now I must look up what a Yen is worth. And then there is the food. Gyoza are dumplings and Yoshino and her friends have just gorged themselves on them. I'm glad she enjoyed her meal as it might well be her last one.