Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: Inspector Imanishi Investigates

This is my entry in the Challenge, sponsored by Bellezza (the link will take you to the other entrants and their reviews). Since I am a mystery fan, I chose a police procedural so I could compare it to the rest of the genre. It is not classic "literature," but I learned much about Japan—which is, of course, the purpose of the Challenge.

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Inspector Imanishi Investigates, Seicho Matsumoto; translated by Beth Cary

SOHO Crime, Trade Paper, 2003
ISBN 978-1569470190
313 pages

First Sentence: "The first train on the Keihin-Tohoku Line was scheduled to leave Kamata Station at 4:08 A.M."

Before departure, the crew inspected the train for safety and anything untoward. They found untoward: a dead body under one of the cars. The police arrive, and on page 2, the autopsy report presents the findings: male, middle-fifties, death by strangulation and post-death, a beating of the face with a rock or hammer.

The victim had been drinking, so the police canvassed the bars around Kamata Station for possible witnesses. The workers at Torys bar, nearby Kamata Station, remembered seeing the victim with a younger male companion. They all agreed on one thing: the victim spoke with an accent of the Tohoku region, a dialect with thick zu-zu sounds, and he repeated the word “Kameda” several times. It must be a person’s name, the police decided, only to find out that there were thousands of Kamedas in the northern prefectures (similar to provinces). Identifying the body, as well as the murderer, was not going to be easy.

I will stop describing the story line because everything I have written so far happens in the first 13-page chapter. By comparison, a U.S. or U.K. police procedural might easily take half the book to get this far. I found this method of wrapping up the preliminaries in a few pages more than refreshing.

There were still 300 pages left in the book, however, so what took up the space? Already declared a dead case in the first chapter, enter Tokyo police Inspector Imanishi Eitaro (surname first, given name second) to solve it.

Anyone who is familiar with Magdalen Nabb’s excellent series featuring Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia of the Italian Carabinieri will immediately relate to Imanishi. Both men cannot leave an unsolved crime go unsolved. Their lives revolve around the case, they dig incessantly for the tiniest shred of a clue, and they never cease . . . thinking.

While there were plenty of twists, turns, and especially dead ends for Imanishi, he had an advantage over Guarnaccia: coincidence. The first one is in my story description about finding witnesses close to Kamata Station—which the police do. There were subsequent murders in the book; one victim lived in the apartment building next to Imanishi, while another rented a room from his sister. While waiting at a small train depot in Akita Prefecture, Imanishi meets four young intellectuals known as the Nouveau group, who play a large part throughout the book.

While I found this a little annoying, it did not ruin my enthusiasm for the book. Keeping track of names, prefectures, cities, towns, and railway stations was a challenge, so I kept some notes and printed a map of Japan.

Written in 1961, Seicho is as fresh and relevant today as he was then. The translation by Beth Cary is skillful, avoiding the use of Western slang and euphemisms.

Best of all, though, was the modus operandi of the killer, so unique that I have never read anything even close to it. I recommend this book to anyone who likes a well-written, complex mystery, a lot of sleuthing, and a very likeable protagonist.


laytonwoman3rd said...

So glad to see you're sitting up and taking nourishment...

Jimmy Bastard said...

Good to see you're up to blogging again today Charlie, take it easy though fella.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have never read a Japanese mystery before. Now I am all intrigued! A trip to the local library is being added to my to-do list as we speak.

Wandering Coyote said...

Very intriguing indeed. Thanks for the review!

Diane said...

I've never heard of this one before, but I am always in the market for a complex mystery, so I'm glad you let us know how much you enjoyed this one. Thanks Charlie

Tiffin said...

This sounds good, Charlie. Thanks for the review.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Charlie! Great review!

Can I make a recommendation on well-written detective stories/police procedurals? I think you'll like Tana French's novels -- In the Woods and The Likeness. They're very satisfying.

dolcebellezza said...

I love murder mysteries! I love books about Japan! I especially love when the mysteriesr are solved! (Unlike the last I read, Tana French's In The Woods; it was, to me, a completely exasperating book.) You have totally caught my attention in this review by bringing to light an author and work I've not heard of, as well as extolling it's virtues. Bravo! I want to pick it up Now.

kara said...

i chose NOT to click on the link because frankly i don't care about the other people and their stupid face reviews.

do you take review material suggestions?

Charlie said...

LINDA: Thank you for your concern. I had a big bowl of nourish this morning, but it's probably not as good as yours.

JIMMY: Isn't it you who should be taking it easy, even though it bores the hell out of you?

BARBARA: The problem with Japanese and Chinese novels is that few have been translated into English. Good luck in your search, though.

WC, DIANE, & TUI: Thank you, ladies. If I'm not mistaken, you've all recommended good books too.

PETER: Thanks. I have read In the Woods, and I have The Likeness in my TBR pile.

DOLCEBELLEZZA: Thanks for your enthusiasm, and that goes double for the challenge. I'm going to read a Chinese mystery for the China Challenge.

KARA: Uh, yes I do, but I don't review sci-fi, modern "romance", or bondage and spanking.

Mark David said...

This sounds interesting and sounds rather different from most Japanese books I encounter. Thanks for a nice review :)

Graham said...

Points and Lines, also by Matsumoto, is equally good if you enjoyed this.

chasingbawa said...

I really enjoyed this book too (and I love Magdalen Nabb's novels!) If you liked this, you might also enjoy Akimitsu Takagi's The Tattoo Murder Mystery and also the novels of Seishi Yokomizo. They are my two favourite Japanese mystery writers.

Charlie said...

MARK DAVID: Please excuse my rudeness for not replying sooner--some comments seem to slip by me. Thank you for the compliment, especially because your reviews are so . . . absorbing.

GRAHAM: My apology to you too. I will look up Points and Lines; unfortunately, there isn't much of his work translated into English. Thank you for the tip.

CHASINGBAWA: I will definitely look up the books you have suggested. Imagine, two people who appreciate Nabb! Thank goodness for SOHO books and their backlist.

I am also going to read a mystery for the China Challenge: Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong--a hefty 468 pages!