The Silent Dead, a Japanese bestseller by Tetsuya Honda presented to a crime fiction hungry West by Titan Books, is a novel of conflict. Brilliant, addictive conflict. Even the very title of Honda’s novel alludes to a dilemma: that the departed cannot help those investigating by raising their voices. In the eerie stillness that envelopes a crime scene, other clues must be uncovered and spoken.
Leading that investigation is Honda’s well-rounded, powerfully emotive Lieutenant Reiko Himekawa. Her own past was scarred by crime while her own interactions with family and duty are similarly jagged. This is a female investigator who has shunned the family obligation to get married to make Lieutenant before she’s 30. Respected by some, scorned by others, Reiko is, under Honda’s inventive prose, both fearless and afraid.
Her latest case involves a series of murders in which the mutilated bodies were discovered wrapped in tarpaulin. Just prior to the victims’ deaths, they all appeared to be suddenly distant and yet invigorated as if lured into some sort of trance. As the novel progresses, we are introduced to a mysterious group entitled Strawberry Night (which is, incidentally, the novel’s original Japanese title) giving the story an extra dimension away from the usual police procedural.
As good a character as Reiko is, Honda does well to steer away from her and introduce several other detectives. The effect is that it broadens the scope of the fictional investigation out of lone ranger territory and also of the reach of the novel itself. As coupled-up detectives launch their own separate avenues of inquiry, The Silent Dead verges into LA Confidential territory (which is no bad thing at all).
Honda’s novel does have its detractions as well – the author is sometimes guilty of propelling his narrative along with some wild leaps of convenience and hard to swallow hunches while some of his dialogue feels forced and at times even close to entering the realms of cheddar and stilton. Honda is better behind the scenes, layering up the afflictions of his characters and the conflicts of his plots. He doesn’t need a twist ending to secure attention. In fact, it’s almost a shame when he takes a shot at shocking his readers as it breaks the spell of being steadily enthralled.
The Silent Dead is a solid crime novel with welcome flashes of emotional depth and psychological insight piercing through an enthrallingly dark plotline. Like a siren cutting through cluttered city streets, Tetsuya Honda’s novel demands your attention.
Summary: A modern Japanese murder mystery with a jaded worldview in need of urgent investigation.
ISBN: 9781785651694 | Released: 17th May 2016 | Format: Paperback & eBook | Price: £7.99 | Page count: 368 | Titan Books