Wednesday 25 May 2016

A Quiet Place - book review

A Quiet Place is a Japanese crime novel just published by the admirable Bitter Lemon Press. The author is the late Seicho Matsumuto, the translator Louise Heal Kawait. The book first appeared some years ago, but this is a new translation; I'm not aware of the novel having been available in Britain previously. I am developing a real enthusiasm for Japanese crime stories, and I was delighted to see BLP turning their attention to this rich source of mystery fiction.

The protagonist is a government official called  Asai. While he is away from home on a business trip, he receives a phone call -his wife has died suddenly after suffering a heart attack. Eiko was a youngish and attractive woman, but she suffered from heart problems, so although the news is as a shock, it does not come entirely out of the blue. However, when Asai tries to find out more about the precise circumstances of her death, he starts to wonder if she was leading a double life.

Asai plays the detective, and finds out more than he bargained for. The story is very low-key, and although murder is committed, this is not a whodunit. In some ways, the author of whom I was reminded was Patricia Highsmith. But Asai is not as compelling a character as the youngish men who so often get into deep water in Highsmith's fiction. Overall, I felt the story never really moved out of second gear.

Matsumoto (1909-92) was, nevertheless, an important figure in Japanese crime fiction. His books are notable for their social comment, and that is a feature of this story, although some of the points made are blunted by the passage of time. Much as I like Japanese mystery fiction, this isn't a truly memorable book, because there's rather less meat in it than I was expecting and hoping for. I certainly hope that BLP publish more of his work, because I'm sure that some of the other titles are stronger than this one.


RTD said...

You make a great point -- social commentary blunted by time (i.e., the shelf-life for some topical themes is very short). In any case, I most appreciate the candor of your review; I can "take a pass" on this title, and look forward to digging through your archives and reading your future postings for books that I can add to my "must read" list. All the best from a new crime fiction blogger with an empty blog, David.

Martin Edwards said...

Good to hear from you, David. Good luck with your blog.