(4.5 stars) From the outset of this atmospheric, often nail-biting, story, the reader knows that s/he is in the hands of a mastercraftsman, a writer who will involve him/her in a story of escalating tension and heart-quickening suspense. Shogo Kosaka, an investigative reporter at Arrow magazine, is driving through a typhoon late at night, when he almost strikes a small, teenaged boy on the side of the road. When Shogo gives him a lift, they almost immediately hit a detached manhole cover. Seconds later, a panic-stricken father looking for his seven-year-old son, appears at the scene. His son had run out of the house looking for his cat during the typhoon, and it appears that the boy has fallen into the water-filled manhole.
When Shogo and Shinji take refuge in a nearby all-night restaurant and small inn, Shinji tells him the name of the boy's cat, the name of the man at the front desk, and personal information about the desk clerk's relationship with the waitress, things he should have no way of knowing, later confiding the truth-that he is different, "open," and he can "scan" people to know what they are thinking. He has "seen" a red Porsche, whose driver and passenger removed the manhole cover, and he knows the fate of the boy. Shogo, however, has no evidence and cannot tell the police without compromising young Shinji.
Somehow the author manages to make even a doubter like me "suspend disbelief" and just go with the story, which quickly becomes far more complicated, and involves another psychic teenager who tries to convince Shogo that Shinji is "sick," a fraud. Gradually, dozens of questions arise, both for Shogo and for the reader. What does the second psychic teenager have to gain by discrediting Shinji? Are they both real psychics? What should Shogo do concerning the two men in the red Porsche who actually removed the manhole cover? Who is sending him anonymous notes? How and why are Shogo's former fiancée and her husband involved in the action? How can Shogo protect Shinji, and should he protect him? Is Shogo being used?
The plot often feels like a bad dream from which the dreamer cannot escape. As in dreams, many disparate elements come together in unusual ways. People who don't seem to belong together somehow do, and plot elements which seem unrelated somehow connect. The reader feels empathy with the characters and compassion toward the psychic teenagers.
It is a tribute to the author that this novel, which was actually written in 1991, and only recently translated and published into English, is still fresh and exciting today. One of its strongest and most interesting aspects for western readers is its depiction of ordinary Japanese life. A desk clerk at a small inn where Shogo takes refuge from the typhoon lends Shogo some of his own clothes and boots so Shogo can return to the accident scene. The author illustrates and criticizes snobbish attitudes toward Japan's "elite" schools, and she refers to problems of compensation for "wronged" parents when an engagement of one of their children is broken. The most striking difference, however, is the constant apologizing and acceptance of "guilt" by seemingly strong characters, when events involving other people do not turn out as expected. This is a well-crafted and fascinating novel with paranormal touches--a great escape. Mary Whipple
All She Was Worth