A Collection of Crime Stories

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A Collection of Crime Stories
Author: Shūichi Yoshida
Specifications: ISBN  978-4041047385
331 pages
13.0 x 19.0 cm / 5.2 x 7.6 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Kadokawa Corporation
Tokyo, 2016
www.kadokawa.co.jp
Buy now: amazon.co.jp

Synopsis

Five short crime stories probe the depths of human avarice, revealing the unpredictability and fragility of life with the same acute sensibilities author Shūichi Yoshida brought to such best-selling works as Akunin (tr. Villain) and Ikari (Anger), both of which spawned popular film adaptations. Yoshida’s chosen approach is to delve into the criminal mind from the perspective of someone nearby rather than by focusing directly on the perpetrator himself, and he deliberately leaves motive and certain elements of what actually occurred ambiguous. The stories tell of the disappearance of a small girl; murder carried out to seize an insurance payout; the embezzlement of huge sums at a major corporation; a mass murder that occurs in an insular, depopulating village; and a case in which a former baseball pro beats a friend to death.

In the last of these, “The White Ball and the White Snake,” the perpetrator is 42-year-old Hiroshi Yasaki, a fallen baseball hero. Major highlights of his career as a pitcher include winning the title for most strikeouts in a season, and being selected to play in the all-star series. He married a beautiful television reporter, signed a big-money contract with his team, made appearances on television during the off-season, and garnered lucrative endorsement deals. But the glory days lasted all too briefly. He retired at the age of 31, just four years after taking the strikeout title, with a cumulative record of 19 wins, 26 losses, and five saves.

The story is told from the perspective of Yamanouchi, a freelance journalist who has followed Hiroshi’s career from the time he was a high school phenom. As with the other tales in the volume, the narrative delves into the perpetrator’s past at length, building a detailed portrait of his character. Hiroshi’s father was a common laborer who worked at an ingot mold foundry, and the family lived in an old, rundown apartment house. Hiroshi was born as the third child, more than ten years after his two brothers, when his father was already in his forties. Fed up with her husband’s fits of violence, his mother walked out on the family shortly after giving birth to Hiroshi and has not been heard from since. The family always struggled to make ends meet, but father and older brothers all placed their hopes on Hiroshi and did everything they could to give him opportunities, paying for him to go to college and supporting his baseball ambitions. For his part, Hiroshi had responded by doing everything he could to live up to their expectations. It was a dream come true when a pro team selected him as the number-two draft pick in the year he graduated from college.

After retiring as a player, Hiroshi is working as a pitching coach when he gets to know a man his own age named Tadokoro at a local bar. Tadokoro, who runs a shipping company, has been a devoted fan of Hiroshi’s team ever since he was a little boy. He is a bit starstruck at first, but Hiroshi is amiable and approachable, never acting self-important, and they soon become regular drinking buddies. To Tadokoro, rubbing elbows with Hiroshi feels like he’s been given entrée to a glorious world above the clouds, and he’s eager to return the favor, but even when he invites Hiroshi to high-class clubs, Hiroshi insists on picking up the tab.

About three years after they meet, their relationship undergoes a dramatic change when Hiroshi begins asking Tadokoro for loans. After having repeatedly borrowed money from his colleagues on the team, Hiroshi had been accused of locker-room theft and fired. He then went to work for a real estate firm, but was once again let go when his personal loans from the president ballooned to nearly ¥10,000,000 (about US$90–100,000). Hiroshi next turns to Tadokoro, who hires him as a truck driver, but his debts mount yet again as he repeatedly asks for advances on his pay. When Tadokoro finally refuses to extend any further loans, Hiroshi beats him to within an inch of his life. Tadokoro initially survives the attack, but fails to recover and dies a short while later. Hiroshi is arrested for murder.

Though few specific details are offered, it becomes clear that Hiroshi had never been able to wean himself from stardom. Even after he had retired and his circumstances had changed, he insisted on his wife continuing to live in the style she was accustomed to, and he couldn’t stop himself from always picking up the tab when dining with friends and junior colleagues.

Hiroshi’s father still lives in the same timeworn apartment on the edge of town, next to where the pleasure quarters stood during the Edo period (1603–1867). The nearby shrine where the courtesans once worshiped is dedicated to a guardian deity in the form of a white snake, and is commonly known as the White Snake Shrine. Tadokoro was astonished to learn at one point that Hiroshi had never done anything to improve his family’s circumstances. In the famous Chinese folktale “Legend of the White Snake,” the white snake seeks to repay her debt to the young man, but Hiroshi not only sees no need to repay the debt his owes his father and brothers, but even sees fit to repay Tadokoro’s kindness with death.

What is it that drives a person to crime? The reader is left contemplating the impenetrable mysteries underlying that question as he finishes the last page.