This is the fourth title in best-selling author Miyuki Miyabe’s amateur sleuth series featuring the narrator Saburō Sugimura, who gave up his job at a publisher of children’s books to work on the company newsletter of the Imada Concern, one of Japan’s largest industrial conglomerates, when he married the owner’s daughter Naoko. He has subsequently been called on to act as an amateur sleuth on several occasions, as is detailed in the previous installments of the series that began with Dareka (Somebody) in 2003. In Na mo naki doku (Nameless Poison, 2006), when his daughter Momoko is five, a lapse on his part causes both his wife and daughter to be subjected to peril. With the further passage of time his wife has an affair, ultimately leading to their divorce in January 2009. Naoko gains custody of Momoko, now in elementary school, and returns to her parents’ home, while Sugimura himself is pressured to resign from the Imada Concern and becomes unemployed at 36. He, too, goes back to his parents’ home in the country for a brief time, but then returns to Tokyo for a fresh start, formally setting himself up as a private investigator. The four novellas in this volume represent four separate cases he takes on in this new capacity. The first of the cases begins in 2010, roughly four years after the time setting of the third title in the series, Petero no sōretsu (St. Peter’s Funeral Procession, 2013).
In the title story, the owner-chef of a popular restaurant, Kōji Aizawa, hires Sugimura to investigate whether there is any truth to the startling revelation his 78-year-old father, Kanji Mutō, made shortly before dying of a heart attack: with both Kōji and nursing home staff present, he had confessed to killing a man many years before. Kōji tells Sugimura that Kanji came from a poor family, and in his youth had been a laborer in the machine parts factory owned by the Aizawa family. The Aizawas’ eldest daughter took a fancy to him, and they had tied the knot—with Kanji marrying into the Aizawa family and adopting their surname. Their first child was Kōji. But then his mother had an affair with a representative from a bank the factory did business with and became pregnant with his child, causing the marriage to break up. The couple were divorced in 1970, after which Kanji went back to using the surname of his birth. Kōji was nine years old at the time, and did not see his father again until Kanji appeared at his restaurant 30 years later. Never accepting his stepfather, Kōji had struck out on his own to become a chef as soon as he finished high school, and had remained cut off from his family ever since. Reunited with his biological father, he had taken him into his home, and the two had lived as family for the roughly ten years his father had left. Feeling a strong affinity for what Kanji had gone through in his life, Sugimura agrees to see what he can find out.
Two murders of young women become the focus of his investigations: one is the August 1975 incident in which Kanji claimed to have been involved; the other is a November 2010 incident that was dominating the news on TV at the time Kanji made his confession. In the latter case, the young woman was on an early morning run in the park when she was strangled to death, and the killer remains at large. In the incident from 35 years ago, the young woman was first raped and then strangled, and a man named Kayano who worked for the same freight company had been arrested for the crime. Sugimura learns that Kanji was living near the scene of the crime at the time, in a small apartment house called Hope Apartments, and that the 20-year-old Kayano lived in the same building.
The killer in the 2010 murder turns out to be Shintarō Hazaki, a man in his early twenties who works at the nursing home where Kanji lived, with one of his duties being to clean Kanji’s room before he died. Still mentally acute, Kanji had sensed a change in Hazaki, and had made his false confession as a way of prodding Hazaki to turn himself in. Thirty-five years before, the Hope Apartments had been home to six men, all of them simple laborers and all on friendly terms, with Kanji and the others looking out for Kayano, who was the youngest. When Kayano had killed in a momentary fit of frenzy, it had been Kanji who went with him to the police station to turn himself in. The reporting on the November 2010 murder had reawakened his memories of the incident.
In each of the four stories, Sugimura reflects on his own life experiences as he meticulously goes about piecing together the deeper psychological motivations of those connected with the incidents at hand. One can but nod with admiration at how patiently and purposefully Miyabe has cultivated the character of Sugimura as a detective over many long years. The man whose nice-guy personality seemed to make him a magnet for trouble and forced him to act as amateur sleuth has now turned pro.