Country Focus: Japan (Nihon or Nippon in Japanese)
The Devil’s Whisper
By Miyuki Miyabe
Translated by Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi
Originally published in Japan as Majutsu wa sasayaku by Shinchosha, 1989.
My edition: Kodansha International, 2007.
Time period: Contemporary
Sixteen-year-old Mamoru Kusaka is no stranger to bad luck. His father disappeared twelve years ago after stealing fifty million yen from work, leaving four-year-old Mamoru and his mother to suffer not only from abandonment, but also the societal stigma of being related to a criminal. Last winter, his mother passed away from a stroke. Mamoru had no other choice but to move to Tokyo to live with his long-lost Uncle Taizo, Aunt Yoriko and cousin Maki.
It doesn’t take long for Mamoru’s bad luck to rub off on them. The family receives a a midnight phone call from the police informing them that Taizo, a taxi driver, has hit and killed a young woman. Taizo claims that the victim, Yoko Sugano, ran out into the intersection while he had a green light, but the police dispute his story and there aren’t any witnesses. Taizo is placed under arrest and faces a prison sentence.
The following evening, Mamoru receives an unnerving phone call from someone who thanks Taizo for killing Sugano and says, “She had it coming.” The creep calls back the next night, and this time he tells Mamoru that the police should release Taizo from jail because Sugano “had to die.” Mamoru believes that neither his uncle’s lawyer nor the cops are investigating the case thoroughly, so he decides to play Encyclopedia Brown. His sleuthing leads him to discover that Sugano had worked as a con artist with three other young women. Sugano was also the third of the group to have recently died. The first jumped off a high-rise and the second leaped onto the tracks of an oncoming train. Not only does Mamoru want to prove his uncle’s innocence, but now he also feels compelled to track down the fourth woman so that he can warn her that she may be next. He assumes that the mysterious caller is behind the women’s apparent suicides, but how is the guy controlling them? And is he manipulating Mamoru as well?
Author Miyuki Miyabe employs plot twists galore In The Devil’s Whisper, almost to excess. Certainly many of Japan’s cultural norms are not the norm for Americans, but the values, emotions and reactions of the characters in The Devil’s Whisper often surprised me as much as the unpredictable storyline. Although Mamoru is a sympathetic hero, some of the ways he and other characters act are so strange that I can’t help but wonder if they are really examples of cultural disconnect or just the result of poor writing. Guess it must be the former. Miyabe is “Japan’s #1 Bestselling Mystery Writer” and has churned out over forty novels. If they are anything like The Devil’s Whisper, expect a PG-rated, breezy, well-paced thriller.
Sometimes Mamoru believed that the shape of the human heart was like two hands clasped together, the fingers of the right hand and those of the left hand lined up and pulling alternately in opposite directions. Having two different feelings inside your heart had to be the same way. They were diametrically opposed to each other, but both belonged to the same person.