The Voice in the Crime

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The Voice in the Crime
Author: Takeshi Shiota
Specifications: ISBN  978-4062199834
409 pages
14.0 x 19.5 cm / 5.6 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Kodansha Ltd.
Tokyo, 2016
Awards: Yamada Futaro Award, 2016
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This suspense novel follows two characters—an unwitting accomplice in crime and a newspaper reporter—as they pursue an unsolved mystery modeled on a real-life incident that gripped Japan from 1984 into the following year. In that affair, popularly known as Glico-Morinaga, a ring of culprits kidnapped the president of sweets manufacturer Ezaki Glico for ransom and went on to blackmail a succession of food companies, sweeping up the entire nation in fearful fascination of their brazen and highly theatrical tactics, such as placing cyanide-laced candy in stores across Japan and releasing multiple messages through the media taunting the police for their ineptitude. No one, however, was caught, and the case reached its statute of limitations in 2000. Here in this fictionalized account, the author changes the names but otherwise faithfully re-creates every detail, utilizing their veracity to riveting effect.

The tale begins in 2015, some three decades after the last known developments in the incident (here called Gin-Man). It alternates between the viewpoints of two 36-year-old men, Kyoto tailor Toshiya Sone and Eiji Akutsu, a reporter for the major daily Dainichi shinbun, taking them on a thrilling inquiry into the truth over the next six months from summer to the year’s end.

One day Toshiya Sone discovers a notebook written in English along with a cassette tape among the items left by his father, who passed away five years ago after founding the Kyoto tailor shop that is now his own. The notebook contains detailed data on Ginga and Mandō, two of the confectionery companies that were affected in the Gin-Man extortion incident; the tape carries the voice of Toshiya himself as a child speaking the instructions from the culprits that were sent to a third food company in the same case and later released to the public. Toshiya can have no doubt that his voice was used in the crime—but could that mean, then, that his father was among those responsible? Disturbed, Toshiya begins following the few slender leads available to him with the encouragement of one of his father’s childhood friends.

Meanwhile, Osaka show-biz reporter Eiji Akutsu is suddenly forced to change hats when, all because of his fluency in English, he is commandeered into helping out with his paper’s big year-end feature on unsolved crimes. His assignment is the Gin-Man incident, which mostly took place right in the Kyoto-Osaka area. Working on the theory that the perpetrators took hints from the kidnapping of the president of beer manufacturer Heineken in Amsterdam in 1983, four months before Gin-Man, Akutsu flies to London to follow a tip about a “Chinese” man in Britain who had been trying to learn about the Dutch case at the time it happened. The trip, however, yields all but naught, leading Akutsu to be mercilessly dressed down by his boss for the feature. Reluctantly, Akutsu starts over by seeking the help of the senior colleague who covered Gin-Man when it originally unfolded.

Toshiya’s suspicions soon converge on his father’s older brother, Tatsuo. Toshiya has never even met this uncle, a leftist activist who vanished in Britain over three decades ago. He tracks down a restaurant where the Gin-Man ring often met and learns that Tatsuo joined them there while briefly back in Japan.

Toshiya further identifies the two other youngsters whose recorded voices were used in Gin-Man: Nozomi Ikushima and her younger brother, Sōichirō, the children of a Shiga Prefecture policeman who had been fired before the incident for giving favors to the yakuza. No one in their family has been seen since the morning of November 14, 1984, the day the police bungled an attempt to arrest the extortionists as they came to collect money from one of their corporate victims at several expressway rest stops, including in Shiga. Toshiya grows confident that while there is no evidence his father was involved in Gin-Man, his uncle most certainly was. At the same time, he feels his interest gradually shifting from pinpointing the culprits to locating the whereabouts of Nozomi and Sōichirō, the two children who were marred by the incident in the same way that he was.

Despite his initial setback, Akutsu the reporter, too, manages to amass enough evidence to trace the restaurant. He finds out that the crime ring initially counted nine, not seven as was believed, and that they split up for some reason; he also becomes aware of Toshiya’s quest for his uncle. Finally Akutsu travels once again to Britain, where he catches up to Tatsuo, now working in a bookstore in York, and has him confirm the facts of the case.

As it turns out, Tatsuo’s father (Toshiya’s grandfather) had once worked for Ginga. While posted without his family to the Tokyo branch in the early 1970s, this grandfather had befriended some students active in the leftist college movements of the time—which led to tragedy when he was mistakenly clubbed to death by a rival extremist faction. Tatsuo grew to harbor hatred both toward the extremists who had killed his father as well as toward Ginga, which spurned its employee after his death because of what it presumed to have been his unsavory activist leanings.

Toshiya’s mother, Mayumi, had also been a student activist and had known Tatsuo from before his disappearance. Mayumi resented the police for their past unjust arrest of her father, who had lost his job and hanged himself after being convicted of a crime he had not committed. Thus she agreed to record her son’s voice when Tatsuo approached her with the plans for Gin-Man.

The genre is crime fiction, and yet readers will hardly find the usual police officers and private eyes in this novel, which instead focuses compellingly on ordinary “amateurs” struggling to weave together the most fragile of strands into a semblance of the truth. The author’s choice of protagonist—a child who unknowingly becomes complicit to a great crime—is likewise inspired, making for a satisfying work well worth its hefty 400 pages.