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#japanese literature

Newcomer by Keigo Hagashino #JapanInJanuary


Newcomer by Keigo Hagashino

Translated by Giles Murray, Abacus

The first time I heard of Keigo Hagashino was when I found one of his novels “The Devotion of Suspect X” in a local Oxfam charity shop. Literally one of the best bargains I’ve ever bought. It was such a revelation with an unusual plot, a cat and mouse battle of wits. I would strongly encourage that you read it. Although his other novels have not quite had the same impact on me, I’ve since enjoyed “Salvation Of A Saint” and “Journey Under The Midnight Sun”. Forget any crass references to Hagashino being a Japanese Stieg Larsson, his work is more that of a golden age mystery writer.

Following “Malice”, “Newcomer” is the second in a series featuring Inspector Kyoichiro Kaga. Rest assured there is no backstory that the reader needs to be aware of, no other returning characters, vices or skeletons in the closet. This book can be considered a standalone. The newcomer of the title is Kaga himself who has recently taken up a position in a Tokyo police department. Kaga is an experienced officer who has developed a habit to look at the little inconsistencies which may reveal something bigger. He is assigned to the case of a woman strangled in her apartment in the business district of Nihonbashi. He uses the chance to help observe the local people and get to know the area. One early observation is distinguishing those business men who have been working in the office from those who have been visiting clients.

This novel is put together in a really original and memorable way. Although all told in the third party, each chapter of the book features a group of different characters centered around a local business. Therefore, chapters are set in a variety of family run premises including a rice cracker shop, a traditional Japanese restaurant, a china shop and a pastry shop. In case this sounds daunting, there is a cast of characters at the front of the book which is of great help. The one constant you can guarantee are discussions of the murder and the appearance of Kagi as a constant questioner.

Unlike his police colleagues, Kagi likes to dress in civilian clothes and often poses as a customer, only revealing his role in the investigations when he has to ask a direct question about someone’s activities. Along the way he unravels a range of secrets which may or may not have relevance to the investigation. Kagi finds dubious motives, suspicious behaviours and a multiple of potential suspects. There are some wonderfully well characterised families such as the Yanagisawas where the long suffering Naoya has a wife and mother who refuse to talk to each other; and the hostile Genichi Terada who always goes into any confrontation fist first. Some new characters appear in each chapter and some do not return, when they have been eliminated or no further help to the investigation. Eventually the clues he obtains give Nagi grounds to suspect one particular person and then he needs to work out the timing, motive and opportunity for the murder.

“Newcomer” is not a high action story and there is no high body count or high speed chases. Yet nobody should be deterred from enjoying this intriguing story (or set of stories). The reader is constantly guessing and it is best enjoyed where possible in full chapter sittings. Hagashino is adept at bringing out the best and worst in human nature. For example, showing that often a person’s words do not match their true intentions as Kagi exposes simple misunderstandings, uncomfortable actions and their consequences. The novel yet again showcases Keigo Hagashino’s fine talents as an unorthodox story teller, with a flowing translation by Giles Murray. It’s an insightful and colourful look at contemporary Tokyo city life and how families function within that framework; as well as a focus on how loyalty can be misguided. This latter point features strongly in a satisfying resolution.

Highly recommended for anyone with a taste for international fiction, or those looking to break out of the cycle of never-ending serials of jaded detectives.

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<div> —  <p>Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, “<a href="" target="_blank">Mandarins</a>”</p><figure data-orig-width="800" data-orig-height="1187"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure><p>Art by Ray Morimura</p><p>More books available at <a href="" target="_blank"></a></p> </div><span>Everything I had seen beyond the window—the railway crossing bathed in the evening light, the chirping voices of the children, and the dazzling color of the oranges raining down on them—had passed in the twinkling of an eye. Yet the scene had been vividly and poignantly burned into my mind, and from this, swelling up within me, came a strangely bright and buoyant feeling.</span>
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<div> —  <p>Sakaguchi Ango,<i> In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom</i></p><figure data-orig-height="524" data-orig-width="688"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure> </div><span>Now he saw it: this was how a thing of beauty took shape. And that beauty made him full. Of that there could be no doubt. Meaningless bits and pieces came together to form a whole, but if you took the thing apart again, it would just go back to being meaningless bits and pieces.</span>
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<div> —  <p>Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, “Mandarins”</p><figure data-orig-width="750" data-orig-height="932"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure><p>A man’s hostile attitude towards a young girl, the only other person in an otherwise empty railway carriage, is completely changed when he witnesses her clumsy but strangely touching gesture of farewell.</p><p>Visit <a href="" target="_blank"></a> for <i><a href="" target="_blank">Mandarins</a>, </i>a collection of stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.</p><p>Art by Junichiro Sekino</p> </div><span>The train in the tunnel, this country girl, this newspaper laden with trivia—if they were not the very symbols of this unfathomable, ignoble, and tedious life of ours, what were they?</span>
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<div> —  <p>Fukuzawa Yukichi, <i>An Encouragement of Learning</i></p><figure data-orig-height="556" data-orig-width="514"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure> </div><span>It is necessary to have a cheerful demeanor, and not give a first impression which turns people off. To perk up one’s shoulders and smile fawningly, to be a smooth talker, a drum beater, or a flatterer, are of course detestable manners. But the following are just as detestable: to have a bitter-looking and sour face; to have the look of one praised for being taciturn but reproved for smiling; to have the look of one suffering from chest pains all his life; to have a constant look in mourning or his dead parents. A cheerful and lively countenance is one mark of a man of true virtue; in social intercourse it is most essential. A person’s countenance is like the door to his home. To have a wide circle of friends and callers who feel welcome, one must first open one’s gate, scrub clean the entrance, and show pleasure in their arrival. But people nowadays go to the opposite extreme. They greet others with sour looks, in imitation of the pseudo-gentlemen, and are like people who put skeletons before their entrances and coffins before their gates. Who would want to call on them?</span>
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<div> —  <p>Dazai Osamu, “Seascape with Figures in Gold” from <i>Self Portraits</i></p><p><i>Note: In this quote Dazai is referring to a time in his life, during the mid-1930′s, where he was battling drug addiction and medical problems.</i></p><figure data-orig-height="522" data-orig-width="514"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure> </div><span>Though battling an illness that each and every night left my robe literally drenched with sweat, I had no choice but to press ahead with my work. The cold half pint of milk I drank each morning was the only thing that gave me a certain peculiar sense of joy of life; my mental anguish and exhaustion were such that the oleanders blooming in one corner of the garden appeared to me merely as flickering tongues of flame.</span>
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<div> —  <p>Sakaguchi Ango,<i> In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom</i></p><figure data-orig-height="145" data-orig-width="540"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure> </div><span>I’ll think about it next year, he told himself. He didn’t feel like it this year. Next year, when the trees bloomed again, he’d really think about it. He had been telling himself the same thing every year now for over ten years: I’ll think about it next year. And another year would pass.</span>
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<div> —  <p>Fukuzawa Yukichi, <i>An Encouragement of Learning</i></p><figure data-orig-height="538" data-orig-width="446"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure> </div><span>If you are dissatisfied with another person’s efforts, try to do it yourself. If you think another’s business is poorly done, just try to do better…If you want to meddle in another’s work, no matter how trivial, put yourself in the other’s shoes and then examine yourself.</span>
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<div> —  <p>Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, “<a href="" target="_blank">Mandarins</a>”</p><figure data-orig-width="800" data-orig-height="571"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure><p>Art by Kiyoshi Saito</p><p><a href="" target="_blank"></a><br></p> </div><span>It was a scene that eerily matched my own mood. Like the looming snow clouds, an unspeakable fatigue and ennui lay heavily upon my mind.</span>
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<div> —  Yukio Mishima, Life for Sale <br> </div><span>Well, that’s what they do on television. Every fifteen minutes, there are breaks for commercials. That way we get to look forward to what’s coming next. That’s how it works in real life too.</span>
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<div> —  <b>Yosano Akiko</b>,<a href=""> River of Stars</a> </div><span>You’ve never explored<br> this tender flesh or known<br> such stormy blood.<br> Do you not grow lonely, friend,<br> forever preaching the Way?</span>
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In conjunction with January in Japan Readathon, here are some Japanese literature recommendations for you.

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<div> —  <p>Dazai Osamu, “Female” from <i>Self Portraits</i></p><figure data-orig-height="425" data-orig-width="569"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure> </div><span>I heard a sound like water flowing behind me. It was only a faint sound, but a chill ran down my spine. The woman had quietly turned over in bed…‘Let’s die,’ I said…The following afternoon the woman and I attempted suicide. She was neither a geisha nor a painter. She was a girl from a poor background…She was killed simply because she turned over in bed. I didn’t die. Seven years have passed and I’m still alive.</span>
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<div> —  <p>Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, <i>The Key</i></p><figure data-orig-width="800" data-orig-height="600"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure><p><i><a href="" target="_blank">The Key</a></i> and other books by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki are available at <a href="" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Art by Ido Masao</p> </div><span>But why did I go so far as to scheme against my husband’s life? Why did such an appalling thought come to me? Was it because anyone, no matter how gentle, would have been warped by the steady pressure of that degenerate, vicious mind of his? Maybe, deep down in me, I’d always been capable of it. It’s something I’ll have to think about. Yet I do feel, after all, that I can claim to have given him the kind of happiness he wanted.</span>
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<div> —  <p>Sakaguchi Ango,<i> In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom</i></p><figure data-orig-height="518" data-orig-width="711"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure> </div><span>Nowadays, when the cherries bloom, people think it’s time for a party. They go under the trees and eat and drink and mouth the old sayings about spring and pretty blossoms, but it’s all one big lie…In the old days - the really old days - nobody gave a damn about the view. They were scared to go under the blossoms….Without people, a forest of cherries in full bloom is not pretty, just something to be afraid of.</span>
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<div> —  Osamu Dazai (The Setting Sun) </div><span>I am choking in the suffocating foul air of the harbor. I want to hoist my sails in the open sea, even though a tempest may be blowing. Furled sails are always dirty. Those who deride me are so many furled sails. They can do nothing.</span>
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<div> —  <p><b>Murasaki Shikibu</b> 紫式部, <i><b>The Tale of Genji</b></i> (源氏物語 <i>Genji monogatari</i>)<br></p><p>Chapter 53 “At Writing Practice” (手習 <i>Tenarai</i>), translated by Edward Seidensticker</p> </div><span>Nothing lasts, everything changes. That is the way of the world.</span>
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<div> —  <p>Fukuzawa Yukichi, <i>An Encouragement of Learning</i></p><figure data-orig-height="242" data-orig-width="443"><img src="" alt="image" class></figure> </div><span>Everyone is complaining these days. Just watch people’s sour faces. How few there are whose speech and looks are cheerful and full of life! In my own experience, I am always meeting gloomy ones, and never cheerful ones. Many could lend their faces to condolence cards. What a pity!</span>
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