A controversial novel based loosely on a series of child assaults and murders that took place in Kōbe in 1997.
The real-world events on which this work is based involved attacks on five grade-school children?four girls and one boy?over the course of several months. Two of the children died. In the final incident, a boy’s decapitated head was found one morning, along with an enigmatic note from the killer, on the gate of his middle school. A second note arrived at the Kōbe Shinbun newspaper a week later, chastising the media for getting the perpetrator’s name wrong. The country was ultimately shocked to learn that the killer was a 14-year-old boy?“just an ordinary middle-school student.”
This fictional dramatization of those events is set 14 years later, in 2011. Released from the medical reformatory where he was sent by judgment of the family court, “Boy A,” the name by which the actual killer was referred to in 1997 as he was still a minor, has been thoroughly rehabilitated since strangling a seven-year-old girl name Hikaru, dismembering her body, and placing her head on the gate of a nearby church. His legal name has been changed from Harunobu to Rintarō. Now nearing 30, he remains under the supervision of a probation officer but has reentered society, working at a pottery studio in a mountain hamlet.
The story of what has happened since the original incidents is told through multiple points of view. Besides that of Rintarō himself, these include Hikaru’s mother, Katayama; a co-ed named Saya, who has regarded Boy A as her idol and followed his story ever since falling in love with his picture at first sight; and the aspiring novelist Kyōko, who is driven by a desire to delve into the inner psychology of Boy A. Discussions about the adolescent killer and rumors about what happened to him have never ceased on the Internet, but the three women are eager to meet the real Boy A, and each in her own way finds it impossible to give up the pursuit.
Mothers emerge as a major focus of the overall narrative. Boy A never knew his father, and grew up much neglected by his mother, who was caught up in her devotion to a new religious cult; when he returns to society, she refuses to live with him. Saya was born soon after her father, a baker, died in the Great Kōbe Earthquake of 1995; she, too, was largely left to her own devices as a child while her mother was preoccupied with work. When Kyōko gives up on her efforts to become an author in Tokyo at the age of 34, she moves back home to the country to take care of her ailing mother and help her younger sister with her two infant children. She grows unhappy in her role as a virtual maidservant, but then she learns that Boy A is living nearby, and in seeking him out, finds her desire to write rekindled. In the final chapter, the 42-year-old Kyōko wins a new-writer prize with a novel based on the story of Boy A, achieving her dream of becoming an published author.
Boy A is quoted as saying he “wanted to see what people look like inside,” and Kyōko says she wanted to portray the same in words. Following her relentless desire to get at the inner psychological workings of an unimaginably brutal killer, one cannot help but sense the devil’s bargain that writers must sometimes strike in pursuing their craft.