This book contains six short, standalone thrillers. Much of their appeal lies in the contrast between the powerful passions that drive the characters to murder and the quiet elegance of the prose in which the stories are told.
A mid-thirties lawyer named Fujii narrates the title story. It begins with a phone call he receives from Taeko Ukawa, a woman he had defended in her murder trial. Ukawa tells him she has just been released after serving five years and three months of her prison sentence. Fujii has known the Ukawa family, who owned a tatami business, since boarding with them for two years while studying for the bar exam. He reflects on the murder incident that took place nine years before.
When a moneylender named Yaba visited the Ukawa residence, Taeko stabbed him to death with a kitchen knife and disposed of the body. She readily admitted to the crime, but Fujii could not help feeling that something did not add up. Taeko’s husband Shigeharu was not only a gruff fellow but slipshod in his work, and this had led to a steady decline in the tatami shop’s business. To make matters worse, he had spent heavily on personal entertainment, and run up large debts. Fujii suspected that Yaba had offered to cancel these debts if Taeko would become his lover, but he couldn’t prove it. In court, the question came down to whether the killing was a premeditated murder or a crime of passion. Since killing Yaba would not erase Shigeharu’s debts?in fact, the loan company Yaba worked for extracted payment from Taeko after his murder?it remained unclear what Taeko’s motivation could have been.
Taeko had inherited a hanging scroll originally given to one of her Edo-period (1603?1867) ancestors by his feudal lord in recognition of service to the domain. She treasured this scroll above all else, and therein lay the secret to the murder. The scroll was usually kept safely stored away, but it was hanging on the wall on the day of the murder and had been splattered with blood from the stabbing. Fujii argued on this basis that it had been a crime of passion, but it was only after Taeko had nevertheless been sentenced to a term of eight years, and after Shigeharu had died of an illness, that Fujii finally realized the truth: Anticipating that their property might be seized in order to satisfy her husband’s debts, Taeko had gotten the scroll out and deliberately splattered it with blood by murdering Yaba; she was counting on it being taken as evidence by the police and placed in secure storage, out of the reach of her husband’s creditors. The fact that the bloodstains were only on the scroll itself, not on the priceless zen painting later re-mounted on it, stood as proof of this theory.
Each curious incident on which the six tales center ultimately reveals an underlying passion that is in some way beyond imagining, brought deftly to light by an author at the top of his game. This is a splendid collection in which Honobu Yonezawa’s unerring instincts and talent truly shine.