Yukino Tanaka, a 24-year-old woman with a history of stalking her former lover, grows infuriated by his apparently happy marriage and sets fire to the wood-frame apartment building where he lives, killing his wife and twin daughters. Readily confessing to the crime, she is convicted and sentenced to death. She refuses to appeal, and the case appears to be closed?except that it is not. With growing suspense, the story traces developments from when she receives her sentence until that sentence is carried out six years later.
Yukino was born to an unwed mother of 17 who worked as a bar hostess. Her mother subsequently married, but then died; after being abused by her stepfather, Yukino was taken in and raised by her grandmother. Falling in with a rough crowd while in middle school, she took part in a robbery that resulted in bodily injury and was sent to a youth correctional facility. After her release, she appeared to have been rehabilitated, but a year and a half later her live-in boyfriend Keisuke Inoue, 27, moved out, and when she later learned that he was married and his wife had given birth to twin girls, she flew into a rage and torched his apartment. This is the story reported by broadcast and print media, portraying her as a criminal personality. But there are a small number of men and women who question this narrative, and as each of them recounts his or her relationship with Yukino, the truth gradually comes into focus.
As the story progresses, the facts of the case enumerated by the convicting judge?Yukino’s negligent mother, a stepfather who brutally abused her, her participation in a robbery, the clearly premeditated nature of her crime?are overturned one after another, and it is revealed that Keisuke, whom the media had painted as a complete innocent, was not only an idler and habitual gambler but had been viciously violent with Yukino.
Two neighborhood friends of Yukino’s from her grade-school years?the happiest days of her troubled life?play crucial roles in bringing the truth to light. Shō, who was a year ahead of Yukino in school, has grown up to be a lawyer. After meeting Yukino for the first time in 18 years he begins re-interviewing, on his own time, all parties of interest in the case. He then urges Yukino to request a new trial, but she refuses. During his review of the case, Shō also renews his acquaintance with their mutual friend Shin’ichi. All those years ago, Shin’ichi had vowed to protect Yukino, and he has never for a moment doubted her innocence. He realizes that she is refusing to appeal her case because the betrayals and abuse of a lifetime have caused her to abandon all hope, and given her a death wish. He pieces together what actually happened: the apartment building was set on fire by a group of delinquent youths in the neighborhood who wanted to get back at the landlord for yelling at them. The ringleader killed himself two years ago. On the very day Shin’ichi is able to obtain the youth’s diary as proof, Yukino’s death sentence is carried out.
The work highlights the remarkable power of the connections people form with one another, and has garnered attention for the way it delves into controversies surrounding media coverage as well as the pros and cons of capital punishment.