In­spired by re­al­ity

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - Re­view by TAN SHIOW CHIN star2@thes­tar.com.my

MARK Twain fa­mously said “truth is stranger than fic­tion” – but not many peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with the full quote, which con­tin­ues: “but it is be­cause fic­tion is obliged to stick to pos­si­bil­i­ties; truth isn’t.”

On Dec 30, 2000, the Miyazawa fam­ily were mur­dered in their home in Tokyo’s Se­ta­gaya Ward – fa­ther Mikio, 44, mother Ya­suko, 41, daugh­ter Ni­ina, eight, and son Rei, six.

The killer stayed on in the house for hours after the mur­ders, spend­ing some of his time eat­ing ice cream and us­ing the com­puter, be­fore leav­ing near dawn the next morn­ing. De­spite the nu­mer­ous clues un­cov­ered and 246,044 po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors de­ployed on the case since 2000 – there are still 40 of­fi­cers cur­rently as­signed to the case – the mur­derer re­mains uniden­ti­fied.

An old news­pa­per ar­ti­cle about this case caught au­thor Ni­co­las Obre­gon’s eye dur­ing his first trip to Ja­pan in 2010 and is the ba­sis of his de­but novel, Blue Light Yoko­hama.

This crime story re­volves around In­spec­tor Ko­suke Iwata, a trou­bled po­lice of­fi­cer who has just been trans­ferred to the homi­cide divi­sion of the Tokyo Metropoli­tan Po­lice De­part­ment’s head­quar­ters in Shin­juku. With the divi­sion’s ef­forts fo­cused on fa­mous ac­tress Mina Fong’s mur­der, Iwata and fel­low new trans­fer As­sis­tant In­spec­tor Noriko Sakai are dumped with the strange mur­der of the Kaneshiro fam­ily.

Obre­gon takes the known el­e­ments of the Miyazawa mur­der and spices them up with el­e­ments of racism and rit­u­al­is­tic mur­der.

The Korean Kaneshiro fam­ily – con­sist­ing of fa­ther Tsune­masa, mother Takako, son Seiji and daugh­ter Hana – are not only bru­tally stabbed and slashed, but Tsune­masa’s heart is also re­moved and his body left ly­ing in the master bed­room un­der the draw­ing of a huge black sun.

Obre­gon in­ter­weaves the mur­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion with re­veals of pro­tag­o­nist Iwata’s trou­bled back­ground through­out the book.

Aside from be­ing abandoned by his mother at the age of 10 and grow­ing up in an or­phan­age, Iwata’s Amer­i­can wife Cleo lives in a med­i­cal in­sti­tu­tion and ap­pears to be un­com­mu­nica­tive. The rea­son for this still haunts him, as do mem­o­ries of his good friend from the or­phan­age, Kei.

While these re­veals al­low read­ers to get to know Iwata bet­ter, they don’t re­ally serve the mys­tery as­pect of the story.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the mur­ders is fairly ab­sorb­ing and well-paced, with Obre­gon drop­ping var­i­ous clues along the way for read­ers to make their own de­duc­tions.

How­ever, the set­ting, which is placed mostly in Ja­pan with a brief foray into Hong Kong, failed to be con­vinc­ing enough for me to be fully ab­sorbed into the story.

Obre­gon de­scribes him­self as hav­ing been fas­ci­nated by Ja­pan from the age of six through an­ime and video games. Ac­cord­ing to the au­thor’s note at the back of the book, he has also vis­ited Ja­pan at least twice and read ex­ten­sively on the coun­try.

Was that enough for him to write an en­tire book set there? Not for me.

His char­ac­ters do not feel Ja­panese; you could just change their names to English ones and drop them into a Western set­ting, with­out chang­ing any­thing else – in­clud­ing their di­a­logue – and it wouldn’t feel jar­ring at all.

This, more than any­thing else, kept jolt­ing me out of the book’s world.

He is also in­con­sis­tent at times with the char­ac­ters’ names, switch­ing from last name to first with­out warn­ing.

Oh, and the ti­tle?

You’ll see lines re­lated to it scat­tered at fre­quent, and some­times rather ran­dom, in­ter­vals through­out the text – an­other thing that rather an­noyed me.

Overall, Obre­gon’s writ­ing style is not bad, but his in­ex­pe­ri­ence shows – less re­ally is more at times – and per­haps he should stick to set­tings and char­ac­ters that he is more in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar with for now.

Au­thor: Pub­lisher:

Au­thor: Pub­lisher:

Ni­co­las Obre­gon Michael Joseph/Pen­guin, crime thriller

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