City of Refuge by Kenzo Kitakata

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This is the first of Kitakata’s crime novels, originally published in Japanese in 1982, but the fourth (and to my knowledge final) one translated into English (in 2012).

Perhaps I would have liked it more if it had been my first, not fourth, Kitakata. Because while there is nothing wrong with it as a well-written piece of Japanese noir, it’s just that the elements present were perfected in later novels.  So, we have an interesting anti-hero, though not as complex as the one in The Cage; the cop on hIs tail is hard-ass but not as fleshed out as he becomes in The Cage; the exploration of motivation was good but not as interesting as in Winter Sleep; and the writing style was noir but not as noir as his masterpiece, Ashes.

Still, it’s worth reading on its own merits. I really enjoyed looking at the world through the perp’s eyes, not the detective’s, which seems to be a Kitakata trademark, and the femme fatale was well-done. That a few scenes seemed to drag a little and the presence of a kid perfect for kidnapping seemed to happen too fortuitously can be forgiven. It was his first noir and it’s no crime that it wasn’t quite his best.

No. 5 of 100 books I intend to read and review in 2019.

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Patrick Sherriff publishes a monthly newsletter highlighting good fiction published in English about Japan. He lives in Abiko with his wife and two daughters.