I came across this whilst browsing in the library and hadn't heard of it, or the author, before then. As a fan of crime thrillers, and Japanese horror thrillers, I was interested in giving this a go. Although I wouldn't say it was especially fast paced and thrilling, it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.
The front cover tag line reads, 'Everyone has something to hide...', along with 'The Japanese crime-writing sensation' to draw the potential reader in. Apparently, this is also 'now a major motion picture', which I was unaware of. Although I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, I did assume that this would be somewhat similar to the Japanese and Korean flicks I love; quite difficult to keep up with at times and I get confused between characters, but it's ultimately worth it in the end.
We're introduced to a young woman, Yoshino Ishibashi, who meets up with a man she met on an online dating site. When she doesn't return to her apartment, her two friends and co-workers grow concerned, especially when watching the news informs them of a horrible incident. A young lady, later identified as Yoshino, was found strangled on a remote stretch of road known as Mitsuse Pass in Hatata. Despite meeting up with him, it is actually another guy called Keigo for whom she has taken a fancy, but she's led her friends to believe that more has happened between the two of them that is true. Her relationship with him is more of a fantasy, but when she lies that she's meeting Keigo and then turns up dead, he's the first obvious suspect.
We then learn about the man with whom she was supposed to meet, a young guy named Yuichi. After his mother abandoned him as a child he was brought up by his grandmother, but went on the online dating site to fulfil his life a little more outside of his bedroom walls and his tiresome job. We're taken down the path of believing this somewhat introverted young man, who deals with much at home with his grandfather ill, may be unusual enough to be responsible for what happened to Yoshino. However, we don't actually see for ourselves what happened, just what we're led to believe as the story unfolds.
A second storyline opens up with another young woman, Mitsuyo, agreeing to meet with Yuichi after coming across him online. What we think we know starts to falter as we learn more about the characters and about what may or may not have happened that fateful night to Yoshino.
The stage setting for all of this is mostly at the seedy heart of Japan, with Yuichi taking both girls to dingy 'love hotels'. And who said romance is dead? We start to get certain views and feelings about what's happening, about who Yuichi is, because of both what we read between the lines and because of our own preconceptions. This is what I found most interesting about the book; it has a psychological aspect that blurs the line between reality and what we expect, which can turn out to be incorrect as the story unravels. There were some surprises and changes in my view of characters, leaving me feeling quite sorry for one in particular that at the beginning I felt sceptical of. These surprises weren't, however, done loudly. Rather, it was a gradual moulding and sculpting.
The aforementioned gradual shaping of the storyline could be considered a potential downside because at times I did find this to be a little slow. There wasn't all that much action and there were points where character development and rumination over the events seemed to drag a tad. Having said that, this did allow for a greater sense of empathy to be generated, and it created a more believable twist to the characters and plot.
A reasonably strong atmosphere is created that brings to live the loneliness and isolation of desolate areas of Japan, of the emptiness felt by characters and their desperation, and of the seedy underworld that lies beneath the shiny lights and otherwise bustling streets.
I won't say this was particularly easy to read because, as I had expected, it was quite difficult, at least at first, to keep up with who was who. I found the names to confuse me slightly, especially when there may only be one letter difference in two names, for instance. A lot of detail over different roads and areas of Japan was lost on me because I couldn't relate to it, but on the whole, I did find the atmosphere, location and characters were sufficiently built up to make them imaginable.
The chapters are quite large, but the book is made easier to digest by each chapter being broken down through the use of little symbols to suggest a new section. We're often, especially as the book develops, given different character's perspectives
Further praise can be found on the back of the book, including: 'A gripping psychological thriller' - Financial Times, and 'It isn't hard to see why it has caused a sensation among readers and critics in Japan. Villain is a superlative crime novel with intriguing twists'.
Overall, I would recommend this for fans of crime thrillers and want something to get involved in enough to keep you wanting to read more. It wasn't the most exciting or lively of novels, but it was intriguing enough that I found it enjoyable and a bit different to the usual American FBI experts cracking murder cases that I tend to read!
295 pages over 5 chapters
Book released 2011, RRP £6.99 but selling on Amazon for £4.