The story begins in the early dawn of June 1, 2001, when Machi Tachiarai, 28, wakes up to the sound of someone praying outside and is momentarily disoriented. She is in an inexpensive travelers’ inn called Tokyo Lodge in Kathmandu, Nepal, having arrived the day before from Tokyo. She just recently quit her job at the newspaper company where she worked for six years, and has come to do some groundwork for a travel feature on Asia that a magazine editor she knows is planning. Later that day, the incident subsequently referred to as the Nepalese Royal Massacre takes place: at a party held at Narayanhiti Palace, Crown Prince Dipendra goes on a shooting rampage that leaves his parents, King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, as well as a number of other members of his family dead, and then turns a gun on himself.
Machi immediately switches gears to cover the massacre. Through the innkeeper’s husband, she obtains an introduction to a warrant officer who works at the palace and interviews him. Unfortunately, she is unable to obtain any useful information from him. Then the next day the man is found shot to death; he is shirtless, and the word “INFORMER” has been carved in his back. Is his death linked to the massacre? Could he have been killed precisely because he met with her? Machi continues her investigations in an effort to understand exactly what has happened.
She ultimately determines that the warrant officer was killed by a 59-year-old Japanese Buddhist monk named Yatsuda—a long-term resident of Tokyo Lodge. Yatsuda has been living in Nepal for nine years, during which time he set up a marijuana smuggling business with the warrant officer that used Japanese tourists as mules for getting the product into Japan. The officer had only agreed to the interview with Machi in order to determine whether she had found out about their operation, but because of his concerns about the political turmoil that was sure to follow the massacre, he had also told Yatsuda that he wanted out of their arrangement—and as a result had been killed so that he could not talk.
The person who moves the dead officer’s body, carves the word on his back, and makes sure Machi sees it is an 11-year-old local boy who has been serving as Machi’s guide. The intent is to get her to take photos that will make the officer’s death appear to be linked to the massacre. Both the boy and the officer were disgusted with the way foreign journalists treated Nepal’s internal affairs like a circus in their reporting. Also influencing the boy is the fact that his older brother had been thrown out of a job when the carpet-making sweatshop where he worked closed down, and soon after beginning work as a ragpicker instead, he got injured on the job and died. Machi ultimately writes an article that covers just the massacre, and dispatches it to the magazine back home. She leaves Kathmandu one week after she arrived.
This is a thought-provoking and satisfying work, with well-formed, three-dimensional characters, masterful plotting and unraveling of mysteries, and incisive probing of issues related to journalism as well as third-world concerns.