Staph
Author: Shūsuke Michio
Specifications: ISBN  978-4163904801
375 pages
13.5 x 19.5 cm / 5.4 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Bungeishunju Ltd.
Tokyo, 2016
www.bunshun.co.jp/
Buy now: amazon.co.jp

Synopsis

A non-stop suspense thriller in which an ordinary woman becomes entangled in events that could shake the entertainment industry with scandal, forcing her to navigate one difficult situation after another, and leading both her and the reader to the story’s jaw-dropping conclusion.

Natsu Kakegawa, 32, sells box lunches out of a van in central Tokyo. It’s been nine months since her divorce became final. The food-truck idea had originally been her ex-husband’s, and he had even done the initial groundwork to get things going, but then he had become involved with a younger woman, and Natsu had thrown him out of the house. Since she needed a way to support herself, she decided to take out a ¥5-million loan (about $50,000) and push ahead with the new business.

For the past six months or so, her sister Tōka’s 14-year-old son Tomoya has been living with her. Tōka is a nurse who was once married to a doctor, but the union had ended in divorce after she gave birth to Tomoya. She now works for an international aid group, under whose auspices she has taken Tomoya along on assignments to such places as Ghana and Jamaica, but when she was asked to go to Papua New Guinea this time, Tomoya dug in his heels and refused to go. Since he was just as adamant about not wanting to live with his grandparents in the country, he had become Natsu’s charge. Tomoya is an excellent student but quiet, and spends all his free time on his computer. He communicates through social media with a network of acquaintances from all over the world he calls “mentors,” and he has a knack for finding a ready solution to whatever comes up.

A third key figure is the mathematician Suganuma, 32, a popular instructor at the cram school Tomoya attends, and a frequent customer of Natsu’s food van as well. Suganuma is one of the few people who know how to communicate with Tomoya, and he also has a bit of a crush on Natsu.

The trouble begins when Natsu is abducted in the middle of December: a man who claims to be an inspector from the health department takes her captive, van and all. The ringleader turns out to be a 14-year-old “net idol” with fluorescent green hair named Kaguya—Tomoya happens to be a fan of hers—and the actual abduction is carried out by a personal strike team of three men and one woman Kaguya has recruited through social media.

Kaguya’s 29-year-old sister, Toriko Terada, is a popular actress at the height of her career, with plans to get married in two months’ time. When she was first getting started in showbiz, she had been part of a teen idol duo with Kyōko Muroi, but they struggled to get noticed. As part of their efforts to promote themselves, they had both slept with an ad executive from a major ad agency. If this were to come to light now, with wedding bells in the offing for Toriko, it would be sure to blow up into a massive scandal, so as a wedding gift, Kaguya’s plan was to delete the incriminating text messages from Kyōko’s phone and make sure the unsavory truth never gets out. Kyōko now runs a food van similar to Natsu’s, and Natsu’s abduction is actually a case of mistaken identity.

Empathizing with Toriko and Kaguya, who have long had to fend for themselves as a result of their parents’ divorce and neglect, Natsu decides to do what she can to help Kaguya’s cause. Another abduction is followed by the van going up in flames and a convoluted series of other twists and turns before it is revealed at the end that the original instigator of the events is actually Tomoya, who missed his mother so much that he wanted to create an incident big enough to get her to hurry home from overseas. Having previously befriended Kaguya through social media, he had schemed to involve her as someone with the wherewithal to cover any monetary damages that might result. Natsu regrets how oblivious she’s been to the way Tomoya was feeling even though they are living under the same roof; she also realizes how much she envies her sister’s life of flying off to different parts of the world to do good.

Readers follow the narrative with breathless anticipation as small misunderstandings balloon time after time into life-altering events with dire consequences—like a rampaging staph infection. Caught in the palm of author Shūsuke Michio’s hand, all they can do is keep turning the pages. There is never a dull moment in this tour de force of entertainment fiction.