Book Review: Villain, Shuichi Yoshida

This slow paced crime novel from award winning Japanese author Shuichi Yoshida, is told in a series of flashbacks from a variety of characters. It begins with the arrest of Yuichi Shimizu, a construction worker, for the murder of Yoshino Ishibashi, a woman he had been dating. Initially, we may wonder about Yuichi's guilt, but as we delve deeper we begin to understand that this novel is less about who killed Yoshino Ishibashi and more about why. Yoshida sharply surveys the  psychological profile of Japanese culture (although, honestly, it's not limited to Japan), revealing the variety of masks each person wears in order to cope in a society that is constantly changing, growing, and losing touch. 

As Yoshida introduces the characters, each affected by Yoshino's murder, we get a glimpse of a culture that is at once, completely foreign and wholly recognizable. We are given access to the lives of people who make up a cross section of this culture from Yoshino's heart broken father, to the girl who falls in love with Yuichi even after she realizes what he may have done, to the spoiled, abusive college student who wanted nothing to do with Yoshino's advances but brags about knowing the murder victim. Along the way, we become witness to the unfolding story, as seen from each character's limited point of view. 

In the end, I found myself rooting for the very earnest Yuichi, hoping that the entitled college student would get slapped down a few pegs. Just as I hoped Yuichi's grandmother would somehow deflate the Japanese mobsters.  In truth, by the end of the novel we're left wondering who the true villain is, the honest man manipulated by culture or the culture that manipulated him.

While the Japan News called this book "Thrilling . . . The sort of book that is difficult to put down," I found it slow moving and methodical. It's a worthy and intriguing read, but not the Japanese answer to Stieg Larsson as some may have suggested.

Amazon readers give it 4 1/2 stars
Goodreads readers give it 3.56 stars

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