The White Rabbit Incident

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The White Rabbit Incident
Author: Kōtaro Isaka
Specifications: ISBN  978-4104596072
269 pages
13.6 x 19.8 cm / 5.4 x 7.9 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd.
Tokyo, 2017
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Describing this novel as a suspenseful overnight hostage drama may conjure up images of an action-packed thriller like the Hollywood films Hostage, Die Hard, or The Negotiator, but author Kōtarō Isaka delivers his own unique take on the genre, with surprise twists repeatedly altering the reader’s perception of what is taking place. When all is said and done, the titular White Rabbit Incident—publicly perceived as a hostage situation that brings out the police and media in force—turns out to have been nothing of the kind.

The incident takes place in an upscale neighborhood atop a hill in the city of Sendai. Shortly after sundown Takanori Usagita, dressed entirely in black and wielding a handgun, invades the Satō home, where he finds Mr. and Mrs. Satō and their unemployed adult son Yūsuke. He binds the three with duct tape. Yūsuke manages to briefly gain access to Usagita’s phone and reports to the police that they have been taken hostage, which triggers deployment of the department’s Special Investigation Team, headed up by detective Natsunome. When the police arrive at the scene and Natsunome calls back, Usagita demands that they bring him Yutaka Orio, whom he claims is hiding out somewhere very near by. He says he will free the hostages in exchange.

As it happens, these events have been precipitated by another hostage-taking. Usagita works in the “Acquisitions Department” of a firm that kidnaps people for profit, and it is his employer that wishes to find Orio. Hired by the firm as a consultant, Orio had worked his charms on a woman in accounting and gotten her to transfer nearly all of the company’s funds to another account. In need of money for a client payment due the following day, head honcho Inaba had ordered the kidnapping of Usagita’s beloved wife, Watako, and demanded that he find Orio by midnight if he wants her back—or at the very latest by morning. Usagita had in fact found his way to the Satōs’ house by following a tracking device he’d slipped into Orio’s bag in an earlier encounter when Orio had managed to give him the slip.

The reader is kept guessing with one unexpected twist after another. The man Usagita thinks is Mr. Satō proves to be someone else entirely—a complete stranger named Kurosawa, who was breaking into the house through an upstairs window even as Usagita was coming in the front door and encountering Mrs. Satō and Yūsuke. Readers of Isaka have met this professional-thief-cum-private-eye previously in his Rasshu raifu (A Life, 2002) and other works. Then it comes out that when Usagita found him upstairs and subdued him, Kurosawa had seen the corpse of a man hidden under the bed. Yūsuke explains that the man had picked a quarrel with him when they bumped into each other on a nearby street while distracted by their phones, and as the quarrel escalated into a scuffle, the man had fallen and hit his head hard enough to kill him. In a panic, Yūsuke had called his mother, and together they had hauled the body home. When they heard Usagita at the door, they’d hurriedly hidden him under the bed and stuffed his bag in the kitchen garbage. Usagita confirms in dismay that the dead man is Orio.

With Orio dead, Usagita has no way to satisfy his boss Inaba’s conditions for getting his wife back. What’s more, he doesn’t know where Inaba is holding his wife. Kurosawa comes up with an elaborate scheme to first get the police to trace a call from Inaba to Usagita’s phone, thus determining Inaba’s location, then allow Usagita to escape by throwing Orio’s body from the second floor with the media watching, and claiming to the police that the hostage-taker jumped to his death. In the ensuing confusion, Usagita slips away to rescue Watako. Once all the details get sorted out, it becomes clear to the reader that the entire hostage-taking incident as seen by the police and media was staged by Kurosawa and the others in order to let Usagita rescue Watako and get Yūsuke off the hook for killing Orio.

Isaka is in top form in this, his latest crime novel, masterfully manipulating both the timeline and the point of view as he moves the plot through twists and turns replete with wit and playfulness.