Sunday 7 February 2021

The Silent Dead by Tetsuya Honda - A Modern Japanese Crime Novel

The Silent Dead is a Japanese crime novel by Tetsuya Honda and the first installment of the Reiko Himekawa series. It offers a glimpse into Japanese law enforcement, which is a huge blind spot to many Westerners. It also shines a light on corruption, sexism, and perversion that festers underneath the surface of Japanese culture, which is a blind spot to many Japanese themselves.

Reiko Himekawa is a lieutenant in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department the prestigious Keishichō (警視庁). Not only is a female lieutenant rare, but the fact that she’s only twenty-nine years old ruffles a lot of feathers among her male colleagues. This is a constant theme of the novel. Reiko is not a traditional Japanese woman, not meek or subservient, but she is loaded with insecurities. Thirty is a sort of “cutoff date” for Japanese women to marry. Similar to China’s “leftover women” syndrome, an unmarried Japanese woman in her thirties is considered unmarriable by many. Added to that, Reiko is too tall, too dark, too masculine, too loud, etc.

The main plot involves bodies being discovered, wrapped in blue plastic tarps, in and around water. Their similarity suggests a serial killer, furthered by the fact that there is little to no apparent connections between the victims. The killer turns out to be a disturbed young woman – it’s made obvious by the opening chapter so I’m not spoiling anything – who brutally murdered her own father, an abusive small-time yakuza.

While Reiko has her share of admirers in the Police Department, she also has a bitter rival in the form of Lieutenant Kensaku Katsumata. Cynical, gruff, and misanthropic, Katsumata is as interesting as Reiko in that he has long ago abandoned any idealism that made him become a police officer. He bullies, cajoles, and bribes people for information, but is actually a pretty competent cop. He has it out of Reiko, who he views as a dumb country hick who screwed her way to the top. Their rivalry to solve the case adds a nice layer to a fairly straightforward mystery.

That mystery involves our disturbed killer and her victims being part of a gruesome online website named Strawberry Night. Located on the deep web, away from regular search engines, it’s a snuff site where voyeurs thrill to people being tortured and murdered on livestream. Similar to the infamous “red rooms” of Creepypasta fame, Strawberry Night lures in people with morbid curiosities but soon traps them forever.

The only real complaint I have is some of the translations. A lot of the angry Japanese words have been rendered as American-style cussing in a very blunt way. Japanese don’t really “cuss” the same way Westerners do, but it’s a minor quibble. All in all, The Silent Dead is an enjoyable crime thriller, not too long, not too short, and a good insight into the inner workings of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, from its rank structure to procedures. Check it out if you like your mysteries set in the Land of the Rising Sun.