Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Night Prowler

What if that star is not to come
Will their dreams fade to nothing? 
When the horizon darkens most
We all need to believe there is hope
"Wind's Nocturne" (From: Lunar: Silver Star)

I occasionally receive review materials that are related to mystery fiction for other writing gigs, but I seldom use those materials for this blog, actually. There's no hard rules about reusing review materials, but I myself don't like writing reviews on the same subject again, even if it's for a different place. But it's been more than half a year ago since I wrote a review of today's work, so I figure even I am able to write something that isn't too similar to that first one.

Mikoshiba is known as a talented, but unscrupulous attorney, who is willing to take on any case and do anything to help his client as long as his (remarkable) fees are paid. At least, that is what the veteran prosecutor Misaki thought of Mikoshiba, so he's very surprised to learn that Mikoshiba took on the Tsuda murder case. Tsuda Akiko has to stand trial for the murder on her dead-beat husband, a crime she has already confessed too. The Tsudas were a poor family, as the mother had to work so their two daughters could eat, while her father stayed cooped up in his room wasting money on the stock market, which was apparently the reason for the murder. But why in heavens would Mikoshiba take on a hopeless case from a client who has no way of paying Mikoshiba's usual rates? Prosecutor Misaki ponders on this as he prepares to head the prosecution himself in the Tsuda case in Nakayama Shichiri's Nocturne of Remembrance.

Nocturne of Remembrance was originally released in Japan in 2013 with the title Tsuioku no Nocturne. The English translation was released in 2016. Nocturne of Remembrance is technically a sequel to 2011's Shokuzai no Sonata ("Sonata of Atonement"), though you do not need to have read the first book. It isn't available in translation anyway, and I also learned about Shokuzai no Sonata long after I read Nocturne of Remembrance.

There are basically two narratives in Nocturne of Remembrance. The first one focuses on the exploits of attorney Mikoshiba, as he investigates the Tsuda case and hopes to find a way to prove his client's innocence, despite Akiko's confession to the crime. This part is not much different from most common courtroom drama mysteries, as we see how Mikoshiba visits the crime scene, interviews people and tries to find something which can disprove Akiko's claims and point to a third party as the murderer. Mikoshiba is framed right from the beginning as an attorney with no ideals, but who acts on a fee, and as we aren't really given a look inside his mind. As a result, you do want to root for him as the defense attorney in a hopeless trial, but you also question his true motives throughout. Mikoshiba is the subject in this narrative, but in the other narrative, he changes to the object, as those chapters star Prosecutor Misaki, who suspects Mikoshiba is up to something and is more interested in investigating the defense attorney rather than the case. We thus look at Mikoshiba from two opposite sides throughout the book, and the result is a story with quite some momentum, as you keep 'switching sides'.

Calling Mikoshiba an "anti-hero" would be going too far, I think, but the dual structure does allow for a portrayal of Mikoshiba that makes him the main mystery of the book, in a certain way, more so than the actual truth behind the Tsuda murder case. As a result though, it becomes clear quite early on that the focus is not so much on "Who committed the Tsuda murder?", but "Why is Mikoshiba on this case?", which kinda weakens the impact of the Tsuda case, around which everything is built. The book says the Tsuda case is the main thing, but it shows something differently.

I read somewhere that Mikoshiba was sorta based on Tezuka Osamu's legendary manga Black Jack,  about a brilliant surgeon without a license who operates on whoever can pay him. There is certainly a streak of the black-and-white-haired doctor in him. This image of him is strenghtened by his interactions with one of the daughters of the defendant, who sticks around him and gives him a human side.

The mystery plot (the Tsuda murder case) of Nocturne of Remembrance is also decent. The beginning can be a bit dry, with legal documents and stuff appearing in the book, but once the trial starts and Mikoshiba starts to show what's he made of as a defense attorney, Nocturne of Remembrance shows why courtroom dramas can be so amusing. It's fairly clued for the most part and I think especially readers of Higashino Keigo will enjoy this, as there's definitely the human drama angle to this story too. As for the mystery behind why Mikoshiba wanted this case: the way it is revealed in this novel feels rather forced. A bit more finesse to the way it was revealed/inserting the relevant segments would've been much, much better. It was too easy to simply guess, based on the way those segments appeared in the book.

Nocturne of Remembrance, as well as my first encounter with Nakayama Shichiri, was thus an entertaining experience. The story might lack a bit of genuine surprise (at least, on my part), but the way the narrative keeps things exciting by being both 'for' and 'against' Mikoshiba makes this a good read from start to finish.

Original Japanese title(s):  中山七里 『追憶の夜想曲(ノクターン)』

4 comments :

  1. Thanks for the review. I just bought a copy for myself.

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    1. Glad I managed to pique your interest!

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  2. Count me in as well, this sounds excellent; I'm yet to be fully convinced by Higashino, but if there's a translation available of something that's in the same style then I'll definitely check it out. Many thanks!

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  3. Sounds like something along the lines of Perry Mason and John J. Malone, which I both like. So the title and author have been noted for future reference.

    Thanks for the heads up!

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