Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Case of the Missing Lady

風とrainbow 追いかけて
「風とRainbow」(Garnet Crow)

Wind and Rainbow, chase after them
Like the seasons you see in your dreams
"Wind and Rainbow" (Garnet Crow)

Going through this book took me much longer than expected...

Three small-time ex-jail birds want to put an end to their criminal life by pulling off one big grand job. After deliberation, the three set their hopes on ransom money. They decide to kidnap the 82-year old Yanagigawa Toshiko, better known in Wakayama Prefecture, no, throughout whole Japan as "The Lady". Lady Toshiko owns huge tracts of lands and mountains in Wakayama and is easily one of the wealthiest persons in Japan. Her warm heart and caring for the local people also makes her one of the most admired people in Japan. And to the kidnappers, her fortune and her age make her the perfect target. But things don't go precisely as planned. Lady Toshiko manages to convince the kidnappers to leave her young companion alone in exchange for her full cooperation. Despite her age, the Lady also points out that their plan is full of holes and that the police will be on to them soon. But having promised her full cooperation (and a Lady's word is a lady's word), she agrees to help her three kidnappers in contacting the family and police for the ransom money in Tendou Shin's Dai Yuukai ("A Grand Kidnapping", 1978).

Dai Yuukai carries the subtitle Rainbow Kids, which is also the title of the 1991 film which has been released in North America. Dai Yuukai is also one of the best regarded Japanese mystery novels: in the original 1985 Tozai Mystery Best list, it ranked 12th, but it climbed to the 7th position in the 2012 version. 7th position of all time. So I had pretty good hopes that Dai Yuukai would prove to be interesting.

And it is. It is a very funny novel, as the reader soon finds out that the three kidnappers really aren't up to the job, but because the Lady promised to help them, she is in the end the one who plans out their whole campaign. Note that this is not about Stockholm syndrome: Lady Toshiko made a deal with her kidnappers and to her, her word is everything. In the course of the novel, the reader will also find out that Lady Toshiko's mind is at a much higher level than her social status and the schemes she comes up with to fool the police are quite ingenious. There is a certain chessboard atmosphere throughout the book, as the police and the kidnappers (Lady Toshiko) try to outwit each other and I enjoyed looking at the game as an onlooker, in turn trying to guess what each party was trying.

Dai Yuukai actually has a very unique position in the top ten of the 2012 Tozai Mystery Best: it's the only novel that doesn't feature death (Miyabe Miyuki's Kasha/All She Was Worth (5th) eventually features a death of sorts), while also the only novel that could be considered a humorous novel (some of the other novels in the top ten of course do feature some comedic parts, but aren't 'comedy mysteries'. Except for maybe Dogura Magura. But that book can be everything). So it is quite surprising it ranked so high.

Personally, I think Dai Yuukai is a fun mystery novel, but way too long for its own good. There are basically three important points in the book (the kidnapping, contacting the family and the exchange), but it just takes too long to go through those parts. The narrative would have been better in my eyes with fewer pages. I'm afraid to say I was a bit bored at the end, because the pace was just slow, even though the plot itself was still exciting. But of course, that's something where your mileage could vary.

Dai Yuukai is an entertaining novel, that could need a bit trimming perhaps. The 1991 film Rainbow Kids has been released in North America on DVD at one time, and the few scenes I saw make me I think it's a fairly faithful adaptation (and very well received), so I'd actually recommend going that route if you want to experience the story.

Original Japanese title(s): 天藤真 『大誘拐』

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