121. The Devil’s Whisper by Miyuki Miyabe
Publication: Kodansha USA (March 1, 2010), originally published 1989, Paperback, 253pp / ISBN 4770031173
Read: July 6, 2012
Source: Contest win
Summary from Amazon:
Three deaths come in quick succession: one girl jumps from the roof of a six-story building; another falls in front of a train; and a third is hit by a late-night taxi. But how are they related? And are they accidents, suicides — or murder?
Slowly, the answers are uncovered by sixteen-year-old Mamoru, the nephew of the taxi driver currently being held by the police on charges of manslaughter for the death of the third victim.
Determined to help his uncle, Mamoru discovers that the girl killed by his uncle’s taxi had participated in a devious scam to separate vulnerable men from their money, and that three of the four girls involved in the plot are now dead. When a powerful businessman reveals new evidence that could free Mamoru’s uncle, Mamoru decides he must go all out if he is to save the last of the four girls being targeted by the real killer.
And then the killer contacts him…
This is, I think, the first proper Japanese mystery I’ve ever read.1 I’ve seen quite a few Japanese mystery TV shows, but reading a Japanese mystery is almost entirely different. It’s easier to get immersed into a book than a TV show where you have to read the subtitles, for one thing.
I had a good time with this book– it almost has an Agatha Christie swing to it, though it’s set in Tokyo and has an almost supernatural feel to it.
Something about the writing reminded me of AC, I think, something about the characters. The mystery was very good, too, with some red herrings and separate plotlines that weren’t, actually, all that separate.
Whenever you read a book set in a specific place/society/culture/etc., you expect that stuff from that place/etc. will be present in the book. It makes the setting more real, the people populating the setting more real, and (if you’re reading a book set in a different place/etc. than you are) it makes reading the book more fun, too. I don’t know enough about Japan or Japanese writing to say if something is “inherently Japanese” or whatever, but there was enough Japanese stuff in this book to make it interesting to me, a non-Japanese person.
One thing that might surprise you about The Devil’s Whisper is how little technology there is in it. It actually threw me off a bit! It’s hard to think of Tokyo without thinking of everyone being on a cellphone or something. The Devil’s Whisper was written in 1989, though, which explains the lack of tech. It doesn’t feel noticeably “old,” though for all that there are no computers. I suppose eliminating all forms of technology (besides basic stuff like TVs and phones) keeps a book from dating itself, especially nowadays when things evolve so rapidly that a book written last year is liable to be outdated the next.
The solution to the mystery was, I admit, a bit of a disappointment. It almost felt like a cop-out, or like a deus ex machina kind of thing. I get the feeling that the things behind the solution were really new and/or important during the year(s) that the author wrote this book and so she used them for the solution, but nowadays maybe those things don’t have so much credence with us and so using them to explain a murder isn’t as effective as it might have been before.
I hope that made sense! I don’t want to give away anything, so no details about the solution. But if you’ve read the book you’ll know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t read the book yet– maybe read it and let me know what you think?
All in all, I enjoyed reading The Devil’s Whisper. It was nice to finally read a Japanese mystery book, and I definitely want to read more now.
I liked it a lot!
Contemporary Japanese Literature: “In my eyes, the major weakness of Miyabe’s style is that she tells her reader what every character is thinking. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a flaw, but Miyabe will occasionally write entire sequences of paragraphs explaining the obvious.”
Damian Kelleher: “The bedrock of the story is solid, generic and, it must be admitted, somewhat bland. No character truly rises above the muck of cliché, and the interesting aspects of the girl’s and their sordid lives are hinted at, but never properly explored. Whether this is a failing of the author’s talent, or simply an oversight, is difficult to tell, but the novels suffers from its lack.”
I ranted at my mom the other day about how many books were being published in other countries that I’d never know about and would probably never read, and I REALLY WANT TO. I suppose reading more translated books would partly solve my problem, right? Still…it’s sad. And annoying. I’m probably missing out on some really good books! Argh.
The author’s photo comes from Goodreads. It’s not mine! Book cover comes from Amazon. It’s not mine, either.