Written by Tetsuya Honda, translated by Giles Murray — On some scaffolding nine storeys above the Tokyo skyline, an unnamed narrator is having an exchange with Tadaharu Mishima, a deadbeat dad and sometimes construction work who has a pachinko problem. They are on their lunch break. The men talk about Mishima’s life, his debts, and young son.
Suggestions are offered. Why can’t Mishima just file for bankruptcy? Why not dedicate his life to being a good father? But Mishima explains that nothing can be done about the state he finds himself in and it seems there’s something more to the story. Then, slowly but assuredly, he jumps to his death.
The narrative then switches to the recollections of Mishima’s son, Kosuke, and the events leading up to his father’s death. The boy explains how he came to meet the owner of the construction company his father worked for, Kenichi Takaoka, and how the old man took pity on the boy after he was orphaned. Kenichi eventually adopts Kosuke and takes him under his wing. Maybe it was Kenichi up there on the scaffold with the doomed dad.
Jump forward to the present, and Kosuke is now 20. He reports a vehicle missing from a garage rented by Kenichi Takaoka’s construction company. A large pool of blood is on the garage floor. Eventually, the van is found in the Chiyoda ward with a severed hand inside. The blood and the hand match, and the police think that Kenichi was the victim.
Soul Cage is the second book from the Reiko Himekawa series by Tetsuya Honda to appear in English, thanks to Giles Murray’s solid translation. We first met Himekawa aged 27 in The Silent Dead, which was one of our Recommended books last year. She was a rookie Lieutenant in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, but now two years have passed and she’s a little wiser and more wary, but still has a lot to learn as she wrestles with the death of Kenichi Takaoka.
Honda does a lot right in this book. Soul Cage follows a classic police procedural format and is mostly concerned with exploring the intricacies of the Japanese police bureaucracy, which it does well. Hideo Yokoyama’s Six-Four, which we reviewed back in March 2016, comes to mind as another Japanese crime novel looking at the messy inner workings of the Japanese police. It’s intriguing to see a woman detective taking the lead in Soul Cage, discovering how she figures into this world, how she’s treated and how she fights against a dysfunctional system.
The story starts strongly and moves along nicely even though it jumps around quite a bit. Get ready to keep track of lots of Japanese names, because some of the side characters aren’t all that memorable and there are times when the switching of narrators and perspectives gets in the way of the story. At others this device really works, though the book loses some of its impetus in the middle.
The key is that the main mystery is compelling and involves a case that sustains suspense throughout. Kosuke Mishima and Reiko Himekawa are well-drawn characters and finding out more about both of them makes the book enjoyable. Soul Cage doesn’t reach the same heights as The Silent Dead – a big ask. Honda continues to explore the themes of sexism and the trouble occurring within the Tokyo police force, and does it well.
If you are interested in more Japanese crime fiction, check out our feature on Five of the Best Japanese Crime novels.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars