This is me, Bins. Today I will talk about a book that SHE won’t read because she’s pretending it’s too depressing for her. “But it’s set in Japan,” I say. “You love all Japanese things.” “This isn’t the version of Japan that I like,” she says. “It’s modern and urban. Too much like the rest of the world. The beauty, the delicacy ... where’s all that gone?”
I tell her she’s wrong. The book’s name is Journey Under The Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino. It’s not up-to-the-minute modern but set 30-40 years ago. “There are some very delicate murders in it,” I say. “Very Japanese murders. Even the way the story is told is different to ordinary murder mysteries. You should read it. You would like it. It starts with a police detective investigating a man who was stabbed to death in an abandoned building...”
She’s got her fingers in her ears. “Don’t tell me the story!” When someone asks me not do something, that’s when I do it! That is normal. “The man owned a pawn shop. His wife is a suspect and so is his employee. But they both have alibis...” The story is told like a movie; it creates clear pictures in the mind. It is also somehow quiet. Even though it’s a murder mystery, there’s almost no screaming. Very little visible blood. Even when people cry, it is with their faces turned to one side. I find it fascinating.
“Pooh,” she says. “You will find anything fascinating if it’s weird enough.” I nod. Of course that is true. But the book is not weird. It is like a beautiful, precise machine. First we meet the victim, along with the detective, then sloooowly, we are shown all the different people who came near the victim. We are told why they cannot be the ones who did the murder. Then we see other people. We wonder who they are. We struggle with their Japanese names. Then we understand the connection. Then we see the detective again, quietly smoking in the background... “You see? It is like a Kurosawa film. A beautiful girl with silky hair. The tea ceremony. A corpse.”
Now she has picked up the book. “It’s quite long,” she says, with an uncertain look on her face. “Yeah,” I say, “but I could not put it down.” “Yes, I noticed that,” she says. “Didn’t wash dishes for three days.” “I had to concentrate!” I exclaim, raising my hands. The story is told very carefully. The detective does not give up. I like very much the way the characters see beyond the surface of each other. They read between the lines of conversation. They look into the eyes of the murderer and they see thorns. The social background of each person is part of the plot.
“Okay, okay, I’ll read the darn book!” she screams. “Stop screaming,” I say. “Stop telling me the plot!” she says, “and I am NOT screaming!” “Not at all Japanese,” I tell her. “They’d scream too, if they met you. Anyway. I’ll read it,” she says, “under one condition.” I sigh. “All right,” I say. “I’ll do the dishes.”
Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column
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