Villain by Shuichi Yoshida

In a nutshell… The discovery of who murdered a young woman in Japan.

Strengths: Characters, how the characters interact

Weaknesses: Some may find it difficult to keep up with the names

Why I read it: Bought with gift voucher

Pages: 304

Published: 2010 

Publisher: Harvill Secker

Setting: Japan

Rating: 9 out of 10

If you liked this, try: Real World by Natsuo Kirino

Villain was one of the books I bought with a Christmas gift voucher. I am interested in Japanese fiction translated into English, enjoying Natsuo Kirino and Haruki Murakami to name a few. So when I saw another Japanese translated work on the shelf, I jumped on it immediately.

Villain does not disappoint. It is a tightly woven thriller, linking together many disparate characters who are all somehow involved in the murder of a young lady on the creepy Mitsue Pass. It involves her friends, her (imagined) boyfriend, a boy she met on a dating website and various family members. One of these people is her murderer – but which one? Why was she killed?

As I’ve found with other Japanese thrillers, this is exquisitely detailed. We have background into the characters and their settings, which are translated very well into English by Philip Gabriel. We know of Yuichi’s past, his grandmother’s problems and the girls he’s been seeing. We also know about his car and what he’s eaten for snacks. This may sound superfluous, but it’s not. We warm to Yuichi and the other characters, simply because we know so much about them. Yoshida paints a very clear picture of each scene – so much so that you can picture the characters and the setting in detail. The blurb on the inside cover of the book states that it’s part police procedural, but in my opinion it’s definitely not! There is little police involvement, and it is all from the characters’ viewpoint.

The identity of the murderer also creeps up slowly on the reader. It’s very subtle, and I wondered how I could have missed the signs of who did it. Even more interesting, is the reasons why the murder was committed. One thing I won’t be doing is using any online dating sites any time soon! (A lot of the young characters use a particular online dating site, to try for romance in between work and family life. Is this a comment on the pressures of the Japanese youth of today, especially with the frequent use of love hotels in the narrative?) As is often the case with Japanese books, not everything is resolved but you can make a fairly educated guess as to what happens to some of the characters whose threads are left hanging.

I really enjoyed this book as it had all the elements of a great thriller – taut and exciting. The insight into the young Japanese was an added bonus. I’ll be looking forward to reading more of Shuichi Yomada’s work.

 I read this book as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge 5, which I am taking part in for the second year running.

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8 responses to “Villain by Shuichi Yoshida

  1. I loved this book and the reason I gave it a go was that it was long listed in this years Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, in comparison I’d say more Out by Natsuo Kirino than Real world.also can’t wait to find other books by this writer, obviously depending on translation.

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