“Snowflakes danced through the evening light.”
THE publisher Riverrun is part of Quercus who famously unearthed the works of the late Stieg Larsson and thereby launched Scandi noire. So here we are again, only this time it is Japan and the troubled geek Lisbeth Salander’s role is taken by the diffident detecto Yoshinobu Mikami. Japan obviously, as Murakami has shown, has potential for the unspeakable happening behind the inscrutable. From the off, there is a very Japanese parallel between the missing daughter who wants to disown her identity, while the police are upholding the principle of anonymity for a woman in a car crash. Mikami has been seconded to press relations. He finds himself facing a gaggle of reporters demanding all be revealed. His superiors insist everything be secret.
To an English audience this is a rather odd stand-off. In British law the name might only be released if the woman was charged and then technically no more details could be revealed before a trial. Not so in Prefecture D where crimes of corruption and nepotism flourish like spring flowers.
This is one side of a triangular plot, the other two being the unsolved kidnap, ransom and murder codenamed 64 of the title, and Mikami’s own daughter who has run away. We, like Mikami, have to confront all this through screens of intense, internal bureaucracy, politics and suspicions. Plus confusingly everyone’s name starts either with an M – Mikuno, Mochizuki, Minako, Michio, Muroi, Meiko, even Mizuki who becomes Mrs Murakushi – or an A – Akikawa, Amamiya, Akama, Ayumi, Amigos.
Mikami one suspects is cut from the usual detecto cloth, passed over for promotion while busy solving another case. He steels himself to be nonchalant. He opens another packet of cigarettes. He drinks cold tea. He acts with care. He gives an ambivalent nod. He supposes, he speculates, he grasps at straws. He feels “vaguely anxious”. Things are “worse than he feared”. Deep down he refuses to be “a scarecrow for Administration”. He is the model of diffidence, “concerned that the careers officer network of informers” don’t get him first. And that is the rub, this is really the secret within a secret within probably another secret (I lost count). He is the Salaryman. Or not. We shall see. Even his wife is a bit of a mystery to him, and to us. Like Maigret, he thinks rather a lot. It is detecto tourism but more important than the missing girls, is that no one loses face.