Written by Tetsuya Honda, translated by Giles Murray — Recently I lamented the decline of the classic police procedural – but how quickly I’ve been proven wrong. The genre appears truly alive and well, not least of all in Japan, where authors such as Hideo Yokoyama and Keigo Higashino continue to put out fine examples of the genre. Among these authors, who each combine diverse western influences with uniquely Japanese contexts, is Tetsuya Honda. His novel The Silent Dead was recently made into a movie in Japan and it’s both a classic police procedural and a highly original creation.
Lieutenant Reiko Himekawa is a young squad leader in the Homicide Division of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. As a young woman in a man’s world, she’s faced every obstacle in her rise up the police ranks, but it’s her determination and work ethic that have propelled her to the rank of lieutenant at the age of 27. She is motivated by the memory of an incident during her teenage years, an incident which shocked her out of complacency and left her with a newfound respect for the police. But not everyone is appreciative of this young woman seemingly coasting her way to the top of the police ranks.
One of the men on Himekawa’s back is Lieutenant Kensaku Katsumata, once a stickler for the rules he has recently discovered that money can buy a lot in the way of information. When a mutilated body is found near a fishing pond in a quiet residential area Himekawa and her squad are assigned the case, and she quickly realises that there’s more to it than meets the eye – there are the injuries to the corpse; some of which are the result of torture, but one cut is deeper, and was clearly administered post-mortem. When Reiko identifies the meaning behind that cut, which leads her to more corpses, Katsumata is furious at the way she seemed to come at the answer by intuition, rather than methodical police work.
Thanks to that increasing body count, the department is left with no choice but to increase resources. The two teams must work together, along with the police from neighboring Saitama prefecture, where a further nine corpses have been discovered in the waters of a university rowing course. With so many officers working together, there’s bound to be some butting of heads, but it seems that cooperation is the only way to stop the murders.
Their investigation leads them to a sinister online organisation called Strawberry Night, which is the Japanese title for The Silent Dead, and I for one am glad it was changed, although it’s not clear why these ‘dead’ are particularly ‘silent’. There are seven novels in the Reiko Himekawa series to date, of which Strawberry Night is the first. In Japan it was recently made into both a TV series and a movie, and Japanese bookstores are full of movie tie-in versions, 10 years after the original was released to great acclaim. It’s not difficult to see why Honda’s novels are still so popular – The Silent Dead introduces an original and believable police character, and gives us an insight into the struggle for individuality in the bleak solitude of central Tokyo.
Lovers of police procedurals, particularly those in translation, will relish The Silent Dead, particularly as it opens a series which is already seven novels strong. The second, Soul Cage, is planned for English release in May 2017, according to the publisher. I’m certainly looking forward to it; the first is a classic police procedural with an array of complex, intriguing characters and a highly original plot.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars