Book Review: Tokyo Express

bookcover tokyo express matsumoto seicho
“Toki, of all people, jumping on a train with a lover! It was all so unexpected.”

Everything is clear from the beginning: it was a double love suicide. Two dead bodies side by side found on Kashii beach. The government official Ken’ichi Sayama and the waitress Toki had both taken cyanid and died together. But something seems wrong: Sayama was a key witness aka a suspect in an ongoing investigation of a bribery scandal, and Toki had never before mentioned Sayama as her lover.

Torigai, a police officer, has his doubts about a double suicide: “Usually, in cases like this, the lovers would opt for a suitable indulgent location – a hot-spring resort, say, or a well-known beauty spot – in which to end their lives. True, the view here wasn’t bad, but they could at least have chosen a patch of soft grass over these unforgiving rocks.”

Also inspector Ki’ichi Mihara from Tokyo, who is investigating the bribery scandal, has second thoughts and starts to look into things behind the scenes. There is much confusion about train departure times and arrivals, when businessman Mr. Yasuda comes into focus as a suspect, but he has a watertight alibi. “Walls were blocking his progress in every direction, and each seemed more unbreakable than the last.”

Matsumoto Seichô (1909 bis 1992) was a Japanese writer known for detective stories and crime fiction most popular in the 1960s. He wrote many novels, short stories and books about Japanese history as well. His main interest in writing detective fiction is looking for motives and analyzing crimes from the psychological viewpoint.

“Tokyo Express” was first published in Japan in 1958. The original title is “Ten to sen” (点と線), literally “Points and Lines”. This novel was also made into a movie directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi. It is Matsumoto’s first novel translated into English.

Three other titles of this author are available in English:
“Inspector Imanishi Investigates” (Suna no utsuwa, 1961)
“Pro Bono” (Kiri no hata, 1961)
“A Quiet Life” (Kikanakatta Basho, 1975).

Matsumot Seichô, Japanese writerMatsumoto Seichô won several literary awards, for example the Akutagawa Prize in 1952 for his work “The Legend of the Kokura-Diary” (Aru ‘Kokura-nikki’ den”, 或る「小倉日記」伝). He is so famous in Japan, that a museum is dedicated to him: The Matsumoto Seichô Memorial Museum.

“Tokyo Express” is a classic detective novel a la Agatha Christie. An intelligent puzzle, that seems impossible to solve. As an avid reader of detective fiction you probably will have fun solving the puzzle but the solution is still surprising because there are some red herrings. All in all it is a short interesting read and I am curious about Matsumoto’s other crime novels.

Reviewed Title
Title in Japanese: 松本清張: 点と線,1958.
Matsumoto Seichô: Tokyo Express, newly translated by Jesse Kirkwood. Penguin Classics 2022 (cover).
There is another English translation of this novel by Makiko Yamamoto and Paul C. Blum, published by Kodansha as “Point and Lines” in 1995.

Dead-End Memories: Stories

Finally there is a new short story collection of five remarkable stories by Banana Yoshimoto.

In “Dead-End Memories” Banana Yoshimoto writes about traumatic experiences and tells her stories in a sensitive way. All five stories are about experiences that come to shape the life of the female protagonists forever. The atmosphere is often melancholic, partly gloomy, but it would not be Banana Yoshimoto if she would not change into a more hopeful view that is comforting and positively points to the future.

The main themes are longing, loss, search for meaning and desire to heal and search for happiness. The author interweaves the past, present and future in her narratives with her distinctive writing style. She uses a poetic language, sometimes drifting in dreamlike clouds. Some of Yoshimoto’s stories are more like sketches of characters. “Dead- End Memories” is also the title of the 5th story in this collection, and it is the most elaborated in this volume. All stories have an underlying sentiment of melancholy.

The book cover shows a red silhouette of a woman in the centre of the picture surrounded by yellow ginko leaves. This creates an autumnal atmosphere and exquisitely underscores the tonality of the stories.

Banana Yoshimoto has published many books that have appeared in several languages. In English, the following titles are noteworthy:

  • Kitchen. Japanese: キッチン, 1988.
  • Lizard. Japanese: とかげ, 1993.
  • The Lake. Japanese: みずうみ. 2005.
  • Moshi Moshi. Japanese: もしもし下北沢. 2010.

The original story collection by Banana Yoshimoto was published in 2003 with the Japanese title デッドエンドの思い出 which also means “dead-end memories”. Asa Yoneda translated the five stories into English. It was published in August 9th 2022.

I liked the stories very much, especially “House of Ghosts” and “Dead-End Memories”. Banana Yoshimoto has a unique poetic writing style, her narratives are warm hearted and authentic. She is a skilled writer who writes longer novels as well as short stories which are equally good.

Reviewed Title
吉本ばなな. デッドエンドの思い出 , 2003.
Banana Yoshimoto: Dead-End Memories. Translated by Asa Yoneda. Counterpoint, 2022 (cover).

Book Review: Naoko

“What they were living through was certainly mysterious, but apparently not without precedent in the world.”

On a trip to a ski resort in the winter holidays, a mother and her daughter are getting seriously injured in a bus accident and are brought into a hospital. Naoko, the mother, suddenly dies. Monami, a girl at the age of fourteen, survives her injuries. When she wakes up from the coma, however, it turns out that she speaks odd with the voice of her mother, and she also behaves quite like her.

The daughter’s father is frightened, but soon it becomes clear that Naoko’s spirit has taken possession of the body of her daughter Monami and lives on. The husband/father makes some research whether this really can happen and comes across a scientific explanation. He is glad that his wife and daughter have survived, but unexpected difficulties are coming his way.

Higashino Keigo 東野 圭吾 was born in 1958. He is a famous writer of more than sixty books and short story collections in Japan.

Higashino Keigo was the president of the organization “Mystery Writers of Japan” 日本推理作家協会 (2009-2013) and is mostly known for his mystery novels such as “The Devotion of Suspect X” (容疑者Xの献身, Yōgisha Ekkusu no Kenshin), part of his Detective Galileo series.

The original title of “Naoko” is “秘密 (himitsu)” which stands for “secret”. It is a novel and was published in 1998. The English translation was made available in 2004. It was made also into a Japanese movie in 1999, and a European remake “Secret” was produced in 2007.

When I read the beginning, I rolled my eyes and thought, what a strange paranormal nonsense this book is. But when I accepted the premise, namely that the spirit of the dead mother takes possession of her daughter, a real dramatic story came to live.

This story is a tragedy. And even if you do not believe in paranormal conditions, then the story of “Naoko” is extremely exciting and remarkably real from a psychological point of view. The story is surprisingly good and has some touching moments in store.

Reviewed Title

東野 圭吾. Himitsu (秘密), 1998. (Japanese cover)

Keigo Higashino. Naoko. Translated by Kerim Yasar, Vertical 2004 (English cover).