Tag Archives: Japan

A Japanese WHY Dunnit and an Amazon Mystery

Destination: Japan

Book: Malice by Keigo Higashino, Shown: MacMillan Audio Book CD, Published in U.S. October, 2014; in Japan in 1996

Kego Higashino, an Edgar award winner, and super-star mystery writer in Japan, writes books that are complex intellectual puzzles with unusual structure. Readers of A Traveler’s Library –lovers of books and writing–will particularly relate to this mystery, because it involves two writers and hinges on  complexities of writing and publishing.


Amazon decided to present me with more mysteries when I tried to find the Amazon page for the MacMillan Audio edition of Malice. In fact, they nearly make the CD audio book disappear.

If you are a consumer of audio books on CD , you need to know how to solve the shopping mystery that Amazon presents you with.  Since Amazon now has their own audio book program–Audible–their index of books leads with their own Kindle edition, followed by the hardback and paperback versions, then Audible. Not so incidentally, (you might think “with malice”) that leaves no space for the audio books on CD. The largest producer of audio book CDs– MacMillan Audiobooks– must be rather unhappy with this treatment.

When you go to the book’s page, you’ll see the list mentioned above and then a “see other versions” link, as though the CD versions rank right up there with the used books sold by outside vendors. This is certainly a not-so-subtle ploy for Amazon to direct audio book customers to their own Audible version.  If you prefer the digital audio book to play on some electronic device rather than a CD, you won’t even notice. But if you want a CD, and aren’t looking carefully, you may be led to assume that there is no CD for the particular book.

So–either be sure to click the “other versions” link, or start your search by typing in the book title plus Audio CD. (i.e. Malice Audio CD) You’ll find it in Books, rather than in CDs, by the way.


That little mystery out of the way, lets move on to the Japanese mystery, the twelfth in a series of Detective Kaga mysteries. (However few if any of this series have been translated into English in the U.S.)  A little-known writer of children’s books visits a friend who is a famous novelist who has assisted him in his career. In the detailed account he writes out for the police later, the little-known writer, Osamu Nonoguchi says he received a phone call from the novelist, Kunihiko Hidaka, but when he returned to the house all is dark and eventually he found his friend dead.


In a departure from familiar mystery format, we know  the WHO and HOW very early. Despite his initial pretense of being extremely helpful to the police by writing his thoughts out,  in very short order, Nonoguchi confesses to the murder. The rest of the book shows a detective, Kyochiro Kaga, looking for WHY (motive) by painstakingly searching through every detail of the confessed murderer’s life. Kaga becomes a forensic psychologist, thoroughly dissecting the psyche of murderer and murdered.

The structure of the book–always looking back at the past lives of the characters to try to find out what happened the night of the murder–means long stretches of monologue by Nonoguchi or by Kaga.  This makes the book a challenge to those who like intellectual puzzles, but a barrier to those who want action.

Many of the things I said about a previous book by Higashino apply to this one as well. You can read my review of Salvation of a Saint (released in the U.S. in 2012). In that book, we also know the killer quite early, but the question is HOW.

About the pace, I said,

…to a person used to the crowded and busy plot of an American thriller or police procedural, the novel seems as repetitive and sometimes as dull as actual police work instead of the action on steroids that we’re used to.

Also, you may have been thinking about all those names like Nonoguchi and Hidaka and Kaga and wondering how you could keep them straight if you were listening to an audio book. (My spell checker is having seizures dealing with the unfamiliar names.)  I found that the author once again (as in Salvation of a Saint) uses enough repetition to help keep the names of at least the major characters straight.  And although the reader is not the same as the earlier CD, Jeff Woodman does an excellent job of presenting a wide array of voices for both men and women.  I particularly admired his work when the detective began to interview people from the school days of the two writers. It seemed he somehow found a way to differentiate a dozen characters.


peach blossoms
Peach blossoms

Is this a book for travelers? It shows you the real, contemporary Japan–which seems very much like life in America.  As I said in my former review:

The characters are … people who could be… listening to the same popular music as in the United States or Britain. So if you are looking for some exotic life form, these are not kimono-wearing women tittering behind coy fans. Instead, you get a taste of real life in present day Japan.

In Malice, we have some Cherry Trees and drinking of tea and a mention of a trip to Okinawa and another reference to a Japanese martial arts class –but not much else in the way of the images we imagine of Japan.  The author purposely strips out descriptive details of setting in order to focus on the fine points of character’s behavior.

It is unfortunate that this popular Japanese writer’s work does not get published in the United States more quickly.  Because the book is ten years old, references to electronics are dated.  Wired phones and fax machines are common instead of cell phones and someone is using a PDA.  There are other clues to its year of origin which could have been fixed if the author had worked with the translator to update it–but apparently that did not seem important.

I was excited by the first half to two-thirds of the book, but  got weary of what seemed merely to be repetitive in the middle of the book. However, a good detective keeps paying attention and does not jump to conclusions, right? Whenever I got impatient with the narrative, I reminded myself that Higashino is a tricky writer and he could be providing me clues or setting me up to believe a thoroughly unreliable narrator.

Early in the book,  I did have an inkling of what was going on and I figured it out before the detective did, but then he had to pile up a lot of proof, whereas I could just say–“Oh! Yeah! That’s it.”

So–I challenge you. Read or listen to Malice and let me know if you suspect the solution before the end.


The CD illustration links to Amazon, so you won’t have to go through an investigation to find it, should you want to buy it. Although it costs you no more, I make a few cents when you buy things through my Amazon links. Thanks.

MacMillan Audio provided me with the CD for review.  While I appreciate their interest in what A Traveler’s Library has to say, a review copy  does not guarantee good reviews. I give you my honest opinion.


A Small Japan Guidebook Captures Culture in Photos

The Little Book of Japan guidebook

Destination: Japan

Book: The Little Book of Japan by Charlotte Anderson with Photography by Gorazd Vilhar (NEW September 2013)

Japan Guidebook Bonsai
Bonsaid from the Little Book of Japan. Photo by Gorazd Vilhar, used with permission

One of the very precise and spiritual arts of Japan that has made its way to the western world is bonsai ( the pronunciation, bone-sigh, was pounded into my skull by a book I once read). This little Japan guidebook strikes me as a kind of literary/photographic bonsai.

Charlotte Anderson has taken on the subject of Japan, including culture, religion, history, geography, and covers it all in concise paragraphs lavishly illustrated by the photos of Gorazd Vilhar. The pair have written seven other books on Japan, where they live.

Normally, a book with so many stunning images would be a coffee table extravaganza, but in bonsai style, The Little Book of Japan, contains its essence in 191 pages that fit within a bright red cover that is just six inches by six inches. The size makes it an easy book for the traveler to take along as a Japan guidebook, even though it is not the traditional guide to places to sleep and eat.



Japan Guidebook - Tokyo
Modern Tokyo with Mt. Fuji in background. Photo by Gorazd Vilhar, used with permission.

The section on places gives condensed descriptions of the major cities and attractions, to whet your appetite for travel. The subject matter, divided into four major categories: Cultural Icons, Traditions, Places, and Spiritual Life will prepare the traveler to understand and fit into a very different culture.

Japan Guide Book Dancer
Child in dancing costume from The LIttle Book of Japan. Photo by Gorazd Vilhar, used with permission

If you read about foreign places to learn something new–to get a feel for the culture, rather than planning travel–you will still get good value from The Little Book of Japan. I must confess that Japan has never been on my wannagothere list, even though I have read several very good books about the country. And because I have only been to Japan through books and movies, I still do not know much about the culture.  So I was fascinated to see that I knew more than I thought I knew about Japan, but this tiny Japan guidebook taught me many new things as well.

I developed a new appreciation for the wide variety and artistry of bento boxes, even though I rarely eat Japanese food, let alone prepare it.  I laughed out loud to learn about the Japanese fondness for good luck amulets when I saw one that you attach to your computer keyboard. (Now there’s something that might come in handy!) How interesting to see how future-oriented the Japanese are, and how puzzled by other’s interest in “old things.”  Nevertheless, they have adapted to the world’s view that historic buildings and places are important and preserve some of their heritage which makes travelers happy.

Of course I know about the manga culture (a higher form of comic book and animation), and the impact it has had on our own literature (the growth of illustrated novels, for example) but I had not heard of Otaku, a slang word referring to obsessive fandom for many types of fantasy and play-acting.  Like going to “Maid cafes” where the servers dress in Victorian black dresses and ruffled aprons and serve tea from English porcelain; or collecting fantasy figure dolls; or getting together with friends and dressing in fantasy costumes.

Flower arranging, tea ceremonies, architecture, shoes–every angle of Japanese art and culture are explored in this beautiful little Japan guidebook that isn’t really a routine tourism guidebook, but really is a guide to the culture of Japan.

 The book was provided by the publisher for review.   My opinions are always my own.  Sometimes I insert links to Amazon so you can find a book easily. Although it costs you no more, you are supporting A Traveler’s Library when you purchase through our links. Thanks!

A Father and Son Bike Across Japan

Book Cover
Destination: Japan

Book: Rising Son: A Father and Son’s Bike Adventure Across Japan by Charles R. Scott (New, February 2013)

Japanese Temple
Sho throwing a ball in front of Japanese Shrine

Beware the conclusions you draw when visiting another culture.  For one thing, your experience of a place can change drastically depending on your mode of transportation. Continue reading A Father and Son Bike Across Japan