Saturday, 27 July 2019

Lonely Hunter

I seem to have read a small pile of books since my last post without getting round to writing a review. So I'll try and write them up quickly. One or two of them are quite interesting; but this one, while perfectly readable, didn't make much of an impression.

The book, 淋しい狩人 (sabishii karyuudou, Lonely Hunter, 1993) by MIYABE Miyuki (宮部 みゆき) is a collection of six short stories involving a little second hand book shop in Tokyo, its owner Iwa-san and his grandson Minoru () who helps him out at weekends. The title sounds to an English speaker like a reference to Carson McCullers' book The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, but the similarity seems to be coincidence. There is at any rate no explicit reference. I might miss subtler allusions, since I've never actually read Carson McCullers.

Iwa-san is managing the bookshop as a favour to a deceased friend, who had wanted the shop to continue after him, but found no-one to take it on. Iwa-san is already retired and has no previous experience in the book trade or special interest in books, but his sharp wits and instinct for business keep the shop running well enough. The stories follow mysteries involving books or the shop's customers. Some are comedies, involving only minor crimes, others more serious, including the pursuit of a serial killer in the title story. At the same time we follow developments in the relationship between Iwa-san and his grandson over the course of the stories.

The emphasis on the shop and the two main characters is constant, but their role in the mysteries are often different. A few stories have Iwa-san as the detective in a classic mystery format, in others he is only a bystander in a story unfolding without his help. In 六月は名ばかりの月 ("June is a month in name only") a young woman whom Iwa-san and Minoru had helped protect from a stalker one night seeks their help in identifying him; and this leads to a murder mystery which Iwa-san solves. In 黙って逝った ("He left without saying anything") a young man suspects that he is destined to a life of getting by, like his dull salaryman father had led. But after his father's death he finds an oddity in his belongings, a bookcase full of copies of the same book, the memoirs of a volunteer crossing guard. Curious he starts to investigate, and finds that the crossing guard had been killed by a hit and run driver. In 詫びない年月 (I'm not quite sure how this title translates, "An age without apologies"?) reports of a ghost in a nearby house are followed by the discovery of a bomb shelter from the second world war with the long dead bodies of a mother and child in it. In うそつき喇叭 ("The lying trumpet") Iwa-san catches a pickpocket, a young boy trying to steal a book called The Lying Trumpet. Iwa-san notices that someone has been physically abusing him. Did the story, an ugly parable of supporters of the military regime who reinvent their past after Japan's defeat, perhaps have some particular interest for him? In 歪んだ鏡 ("Twisted Mirror") a woman finds an abandoned book on the train, and becomes curious about the previous owner, whose business card is left as a bookmark inside. Finally in 淋しい狩人 ("Lonely Hunter") Iwa-san is helping the daughter of a mystery writer, who disappeared years ago, to dispose of his library, as the family have finally come to accept his death. But someone seems to be carrying out the murders in the writer's last book, an unfinished and posthumously published serial killer story.

Most of the stories have some interest, at least in the set up, but the resolution was not always very compelling.