The Golden Machine

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The Golden Machine
Author: Kōtarō Tsunekawa
Specifications: ISBN  978-4163825601
445 pages
13.6 x 19.5 cm / 5.4 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Bungeishunju Ltd.
Tokyo, 2013
Awards: Mystery Writers of Japan Award, 2014
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This dark fantasy centers on a humanoid alien said to have come to earth from the moon over 300 years ago, during Japan’s feudal Edo period (1603?1867). Known as Mr. Golden because of his shiny color, the alien has perfect recall of everything he sees and hears, can mimic voices, can impersonate both males and females, and can easily overpower any human with his tremendous strength. At times working as a bodyguard, at times idolized as a god, he is above all unshakably devoted to whomever he believes to be his master. This loyal robot’s only flaw is that he is unable to halt operations on his own volition.

Set in 1747, the revenge drama extends to the backstory that took place some 30 years in the past. Center stage in the tale is a lofty building called Gokurakuen?“The Garden of Paradise”?which is located in the remote mountains. Ordinary folk know and fear the place as a citadel of criminal activity, including murder for hire, arson, burglaries, and the abduction and sale of women, and they refer to it as the “Demon Palace.” The Gokurakuen gains authorization from the domain administration to develop a pleasure quarter as a new, fully licensed enterprise. The venture becomes a success, and since a portion of the revenues is being kicked back to the domain as a bribe, local authorities maintain a hands-off attitude toward the Gokurakuen.

At the beginning of the tale, an 18-year-old woman named Haruka comes to see Kumagorō, the owner of the Shinanoya teahouse in the licensed quarter, looking for work as a courtesan. Kumagorō is a large man, who has special powers of insight that allow him to see through other people’s lies and murderous intent. As a boy, he had run away from home when he realized his father was about to kill him in order to reduce the number of mouths he had to feed. The Gokurakuen took him in, and when he was older he worked his way up from gateman to independent teahouse owner. For her part, Haruka’s parents had been murdered by an unknown assailant when she was two, leaving her orphaned. A doctor’s family took her in and raised her to adulthood. She, too, possesses an extraordinary power: she can bring someone a painless death merely by touching him or her.

In fact, Haruka’s biological mother was a woman named Momiji, who had worked at the Gokurakuen along side Kumagorō and had even been his lover for a time. Haruka’s true intent is to get Kumagorō to take her to the Gokurakuen so she can avenge the death of her husband, killed by top boss Yohaya. Not only is Yohaya the man who picked Kumagorō up when he ran away from home, but he gained his present position by plotting to kill Handō, his predecessor as boss as well as Mr. Golden’s master. With Mr. Golden’s help, Haruka is able to touch Yohaya and kill him, then set fire to the Gokurakuen. Her revenge is complete.

Taking place in dark times when not just famine and natural calamity but the villainous schemes of outlaws and the corruption of authorities have people dropping like flies, this highly eccentric and clever work will keep the reader guessing, and the pages turning.