Friday, 16 March 2012

Forgotten Book - The Third Lady

My Forgotten Book for today is one of the few Japanese novels that I’ve read (in translation, I hasten to add.) It is The Third Lady by Shizuko Natsuki, and I learned of it from John Norris’s brilliant blog. John raved over it, and when I saw that Ed Gorman – someone whose literary judgment is irreproachable – had also admired the novel, I simply had to read it.

And I wasn’t disappointed, though I must say I thought the translation by Robert Rohmer had one or two infelicities here and there. But it’s a story of “murder by proxy” which takes the basic idea of Patricia Highsmith’s classic Strangers on a Train, but puts a very different spin on it.

This idea of giving a fresh twist to an old idea is one that appeals to me. After all, most ideas have crossed someone else’s mind in the past. And Natsuki does very well to turn this story into a sort of moral fable, while giving the tale an excellent twist.

The premise is that a man and woman have a fleeting encounter and tell each other about someone they hate and whom they wish dead. The man, Kohei Daigo, finds that his enemy is killed by a mystery woman. He’s sure the killer is the woman by whom he is now quite obsessed. But can he bring himself to kill her enemy? It’s cleverly done, and I enjoyed reading the book. First published in 1987, it certainly doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.

And here’s a question. What other “murder by proxy” stories are out there? I can think of at least two, and that isn’t counting the embryonic story I dreamed up when visiting Dublin last year!


J F Norris said...

So glad you found it as memorable as I did. I must've missed those infelicitous word choices in the translation. I usually catch them. BTW - the author is a woman and you you wrote "his tale" at one point in the review.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, John, duly corrected. I'm really grateful to you for having directed me to such an intriguing and memorable story. An example of the merits of blogs!

Deb said...

If I'm remembering it correctly, THE BRIDESMAID (a Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine non-Wexford mystery) features an obviously-disturbed woman who kills a man she thinks has caused trouble for her boyfriend. It's been a while since I read it, so it may not be the classic "murder by proxy" plot I'm remembering. Also, Rendell's LAKE OF SOULS involves a murder by a third party, but that's more inadvertent than by proxy.

There was an episode of "Law & Order" a number of years ago in which two women killed each other's husbands. The plot was so blatant a rip-off, one of the investigators even says, "Do we have a 'Stangers on a Train' situation here?"

I agree with you about John's blog. PRETTY SINISTER BOOKS has been one of my favorite "finds" of the last year.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Deb. It's ages since I read The Bridesmaid and I confess I've forgotten the plot completely. All I remember is that I liked it!
Thanks for the other references too.