Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Tama Lakeside Murder Case

I don't think I've reviewed anything by UCHIDA Yasuo (内田康夫, born 1934) yet, though I read a couple of his books before I started this blog. He is best known for the Asami Mitsuhiko series, whose hero's job as a freelance travel writer allows Uchida to decorate the mysteries with descriptions of different parts of Japan in which the crimes are set. The title of this book 多摩湖畔殺人事件 (Tamakohan satsujinjiken, The Tama Lakeside Murder Case, 1993) would be absolutely typical of the series, many of which are a combination of place name and "murder case". This is a recognized genre in Japan, the "travel mystery", which gives the reader a combination of guidebook and mystery. The book is actually not in that series, but has strong travel mystery elements, although anyone looking for information on the title setting will be disappointed, as the body found there by a passing jogger ought not to have been there and the pursuit of how the victim got there leads to quite different parts of Japan, in particular to Arita in the north east.

The narration mostly follows the viewpoint of a police detective, KOUCHI (川内), a middle aged man, known to criminals as the demon policeman for his relentless pursuit. He had been too devoted to his work even when his wife and daughter were alive, but after both died early, his work is all he cares about. Currently he is resisting his doctor's advice to have the severe stomach pains he has been experiencing for months properly investigated.

Although the killer seems to have made some effort to make the victim hard to identify, they soon find that he is a Tokyo businessman. His daughter, a beautiful wheelchair bound invalid who resembles Kouchi's lost daughter, soon proves to be more of a detective than the police, making several key breakthroughs in the investigation.

Like many travel mysteries the plot follows a "patient policeman" model, gradually revealing the victim's movements before his disappearance and homing in on a suspect. There is, as often in these stories, only one real suspect, and the interest is in whether the police can break his alibi. Different parts of the  puzzle get solved stage by stage until the final confrontation. None of it really got my interest, I'm afraid, neither the mystery nor the human interest story. Uchida is a competent enough writer that you can understand his reliable popularity; but both plot ideas and characters seem very conventional for the most part. And diversions from the conventional were generally unattractive rather than interesting.

No comments:

Post a Comment