A few months ago I picked up Tokyo Express at the bookshop. It was in the danger stack, that ruthlessly well-selected mishmash of self-help books, slim extended essays and much-discussed new releases booksellers put at the till in the knowledge that you’ll be queuing just long enough to pick one up and decide you need it.
I picked it up and decided I needed it. Not like my TBR pile occupies my entire desktop or anything.
Tokyo Express was short and satisfyingly elegant. I really liked it. (Superb translation, by which I mean the prose was lovely, and I therefore assume the actual meaning was appropriately conveyed. I have no idea.)
And so back to the bookshop for Inspector Imanishi Investigates, which I finished last night. Like Tokyo Express, it’s set in post-war Japan and features a dogged detective pursuing a seemingly insoluble crime across a period of months. It’s slow, melancholic and immersive. To be honest, they both remind me of my father’s writing.
Some of the staples of modern (English language?) crime are just non-present. Imanishi isn’t a maverick. No one ever says “you have to stop pursuing this case!” The police force exists around him as a broadly cooperative haze of knowledge and regret. He doesn’t go rogue. He has a fairly solid relationship with his wife and child, even if he sometimes takes her for granted. He means to do better. Perhaps he will. He’s quite a linear man; when this is over and he gets his expenses, he might well just take her on that holiday.
What makes the book fascinating to me - oh, it is fascinating, and just really good in general, so yes, you should read it - is the slow depth of the landscape. It’s a moment of transition in Japan; new ideas are spreading, new contexts are forming. There’s traditional beauty still, but modernity is yammering to be let in. Through this kaleidoscope moves Imanishi, sometimes comfortable, sometimes perplexed, always measured. And boy, does he investigate. He searches, comes to dead ends, steps back. He’s a process detective. He knocks on doors. He sits and listens and assembles fragments and he simply doesn’t stop, even when an answer puts him all the way back to the beginning. Which happens.
I’ve written crime novels. I let my investigators follow threads into danger. They earn their way to answers with risk. Imanishi lives by graft. He works and works and the world cannot hide its truths. It’s another way of being in the world, and very beautiful.
The story gets very dark, and ultimately very strange. It is, truly, a mystery of rising modernity, possessed of a weird appropriateness in its final stages, and a deep connection to the recent history of its setting - always present, barely referenced and never emphasised. This is a nation of cinemas and hot springs, abacuses and modern art; the murder is of its place.
Randomly reviewing fiction from the 1960s. I am 100% on top of the news.
Read Inspector Imanishi Investigates on first trip to Japan and loved it.