So the first couple of pages of Villain don’t exactly make you want to jump into the fray. Because it reads like a rather boring travel guide, written by somebody who is rather into transportation and roads. You can know all you need to know about the tolls for vehicles between Nagasaki and Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Hakata.
I went along with it, and then comes the trigger. The last paragraph (of the first section) tells the reader of an arrest, of a crime, essentially spelling it out for you.
And that’s the thing I realise about Japanese crime fiction, at least the three that I have read so far (Out, The Devotion of Suspect X). That it is not about the mystery, it’s not technically a whodunnit, because you already know whodidit. Because it’s right there in your face, in the first few sections, the first few pages even. These books are more about the ‘why’, and the effect the murders have – on the murderers themselves, the victim’s family and friends, the other suspects.
Villain, by Shuichi Yoshida, brings out a different part of Japan, one of love hotels and online dating, and ageing seaside villages full of elderly residents. It is a quite ugly, rather lonely view of Japan.
“The scenery flowing past changed, but they never seemed to get anywhere. When the interstate ended, it connected up with the prefectural highway, and past that were city and local roads. Mitsuyo had a road atlas spread out on the dashboard. She flipped through the maps and saw that the highways and roads were all color-coded. Interstates were orange, prefectural highways were green, local roads were blue, and smaller roads were white. The countless roads were a net, a web that had caught them and the car they were in.”
Told from multiple viewpoints especially towards the end of the book, Villain shines when the focus is on the victim’s father, who struggles to come to terms with his daughter’s death, and his painful realisation that he didn’t really know his child at all.
Villain was an engrossing, thought provoking read, and leaves you wondering, who – or perhaps what – is the real ‘villain’ here.