Sunday, June 05, 2016

Empowering the Crime Fiction Genre: Fuminori Nakamura #10

A reviewer in one of this morning's powerful newspapers made the casual assumption that thrillers, a plot-driven subgenre of the mystery field, are written (like other mysteries) to provide escape time for readers. With Fuminori Nakamura's newest crime novel in mind, THE KINGDOM, that's simply not the case.

Instead, consider Dostoevsky's powerful novel The Brothers Karamazov  -- which could be described as driven by a plot involving patricide, the world-shaking killing of father by child. Amid all the twists of the book, the author's philosophizing (spoken by the characters) pounds against the soul like an ocean on a beach. Well, pardon the dramatic metaphor, but over and over, in THE KINGDOM, I thought of Dostoevsky.

The book's first-person narrative comes from Yurika, a professional prostitute in Tokyo's underworld (a career choice that won't surprise readers of Nakamura's earlier books). Not only is she soliciting men to have sex with her -- she's working for a mysterious organization that pays her to drug them men, set up items around their naked bodies (sometimes she is one of the items), and photograph them, obviously for the sake of power via blackmail. Yurika (dare we guess that the sound of her name, spoken aloud, is signaling something?) gets off on the vulnerability she creates through these stagings. But she's not clear on who actually is hiring her, to the point where she may even have created one or more stagings in opposition to her real bosses. Uh-oh.

When her own past suddenly takes center stage, she's trapped and frantic. And despite her logical reaction of terror and desire to escape, she's pinned ... and listening, against her will, to a very disturbing man she calls (whether it's his real name or not) Kizaki:
Kizaki moved his hand slightly.

"Let's say there is a man on the bed in a love hotel in Ikebukuro, and you stab him straight through the chest."

I focused on my nerves and maintained my smile. I'm sure he was saying on it purpose, but he didn't show it at all.

"Just staring cruelly at that man as he suffers from the wound is boring. Smiling while you watch him suffer, that's boring, too. You must feel what he feels. ... keep stabbing. Deeper. Deeper. Then, both the overwhelming, cruel joy of destroying a life and the warm feeling of sympathizing with that life will seep through you. ... those feelings will go beyond human capacity, and keep rising up forever. Like a whirlpool. What's important is to leave nothing unappreciated. It's great. That moment."

Kizaki reached out and suddenly grabbed the neck of the woman next to him.
The meshing of violence, sex, and an insistent pornographic attention to inner feelings places THE KINGDOM in a stance that may explain, for instance, the steady TV contracts to shows like Criminal Minds and books like The Silence of the Lambs. This is the inside-out of crime fiction: not the heroic stance of the crime solver, but the obsessive drive of the most twisted and potent of criminals, and the desire to watch.

And yet. Yurika is more than her paid work, and more than her trembling, half-exhilarated shock at what confronts her. Emerging from her isolation as a child orphan and then as an adult working in the most despised ways, she expresses a longing for something "other." She asks of herself, "What tide was I being tossed around by? Who or what had I betrayed? What had I escaped from?"

In this tenth of his crime novels, Nakamura presses more directly than ever on the dark side of urban lives, from Tokyo to its shadowed mirror in urban America. Wisely, he keeps the plot direct, clear, and compact -- THE KINGDOM wraps up at 212 pages -- and provides a classic in the making.

Obviously, if the violence and darkness repel you, don't read this one. But if you can bear walking through the book as a "watcher" of what Nakamura presents, then this book is well worth reading and owning. I'll be re-reading this and other Nakamura crime novels, for sure. Once again, Soho Crime proves that the "mystery genre" is far wider and more diverse than any casual assumptions might suggest.

Just make sure there's room in your schedule for recovery from this highly purposeful journey into darkness.

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