Melding elements of hair-raising legend with the latest science, author Tetsutaka Shibata invokes the supernatural tengu of Japanese folklore?a “goblin” with a red face, long nose, and wings that let him fly about the mountain forests?to produce a highly entertaining work of hardboiled fiction.
The protagonist is Keiichi Michihira, a reporter who works for a major wire service. Back in 1974, when he was in his second year with the company, he had reported on a series of murders that took place in a remote village in Gunma Prefecture; 26 years later, in 2000, he decides to find out the truth about the unsolved mystery.
The case involves the village of Shikamata, which at the time of the murders had a population of just 14 people, descended from a tribe of hunters. Five men and women were killed in three separate incidents, and the perpetrator remains at large. In the second incident, even the victim’s body was missing. Witnesses reported seeing a man over two meters (about seven feet) tall in the area, and the heads of the other victims appeared to have been crushed by a giant hand. In the third incident, the victim’s body was found atop a 20-meter tree. The surviving villagers talked of the deaths as the handiwork of a tengu, but the official investigation quickly came to a standstill. During his time reporting on the crimes, Michihira slept with the local blind beauty, Saeko. A former prostitute, she was shared by the men of the village for sexual purposes?until her house burned down, and she went missing.
While in the village in 1974, Michihira had befriended crime-scene investigator Onuki. In the years since, Onuki has privately continued to maintain a file on the case, updating it with any new information he is able to acquire. Diagnosed with cancer in 2000, he turns this file over to Michihira, who goes back to Shikamata to investigate (and to find Saeko). He ends up writing a series of articles summarizing the cold case, and because of the huge response they generate, the articles are translated into English and serialized in Newsweek. Then, when Michihira is in New York to cover the 9/11 attacks, he receives a letter. The sender, Kent Rigby, is one of three mysterious Americans who were living in Shikamata at the time of the 1974 killings, and his knowledge is key to unraveling the truth about what happened.
The creature rumored by the villagers to be a tengu had been captured in Vietnam at the height of the war there. It had been designated a UMA?“Unidentified Mysterious Animal”?and was thought to be descended from the Neanderthals. Assigned to study the animal by the FBI, his employer at the time, Rigby had smuggled a male specimen out to Okinawa in a shipment of military supplies and afterwards brought it to Shikamata. Ignoring U.S. government orders to destroy the beast, he decided to breed the UMA with a human female in order to produce offspring. Saeko was that female. The UMA ultimately died in the fire at Saeko’s house, but Rigby rescued Saeko and brought her back to the U.S., where they have lived ever since as husband and wife, and she has given birth to the UMA’s child . . .
Shibata has written several other novels that feature UMAs, including Kappa.