Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Policeman's Child

刑事の子 (keiji no ko, The Policeman's Child, 1990) is a mystery by MIYABE Miyuki (宮部 みゆき). It was first published under the title 東京殺人暮色 (Toukyou satsujin boshoku, Tokyo murder dusk colours), then republished in 1994 as 東京下町殺人暮色(Toukyou shitamachi satsujin boshoku, Downtown Tokyo murder dusk colours) and finally in 2011 under the current title. The first two titles, I suspect, reflect the major role of an artist in the story, and shitamachi, downtown, is the central part of Tokyo near the main river and harbour, traditionally a less wealthy and (as the inhabitants see it) more neighbourly area, a place in which people take an interest in what their neighbours are up to more than other parts of the city. The final title reflects the two main characters, detective YAGIZAWA Michio 八木沢道雄 and his teenage son Jun 順, who are living together after Michio and his wife divorced in a new home in the shitamachi area.

The narrative of the story switches between the two. On the one hand we follow Jun and his best friend from school as they investigate rumours circulating in the area about women who visit a famous artist's home never being seen again, on the other we see Michio and other murder squad detectives working on a case with the dismembered body of a young woman. It's a little hard to get the measure of the book. The Jun parts read a little like a juvenile detective story at first; but the murder investigation is more hard boiled, concerned with a series of gruesome crimes. The two strands come together when an anonymous accusation of the artist is sent to the Yagizawa house in the same handwriting as a series of taunting letters sent to the police telling them where they could find the next dead body.

The artist suspect clearly has mysteries of his own, in his attitude to the defining moment of his life, his survival of the firebombing of Tokyo, and in his current artistic choices. The mystery when it is resolved proves to have a complex plot, but I didn't find it very satisfying; and an element of social didacticism also hurt the story for me.

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