Hackneyed writing and plot devices grow like kabi (mold) in crime fiction, but this anthology of 16 stories by writers in and outside Japan serves up tasty surprises. “Jigoku” by Naomi Hirahara is a heartfelt, surefooted tale by a serial killer confined to a cardboard-box in hell. Carrie Vaughn’s “The Girl Who Loved Shonen Knife” is a breathless, manga-esque escapade about a schoolgirl who’ll stop at nothing to win a battle of the bands contest. And Yumeaki Hirayama’s “Monologue of a Universal Transverse Mercator Projection” overcomes its clunky title with an animistic tale of grisly slayings — narrated by none other than an atlas of Tokyo. There’s more guts and gore than a Japanese whaling research vessel here — some of it ridiculously gratuitous, as in “The Saitama Chain Saw Massacre” by Japanese science-fiction heavyweight Hiroshi Sakurazaka, author of “All You Need is Kill.”
Haikasoru (Viz Media), Fiction.
There are also a few false notes. Scottish author Ray Banks has a down-on-his luck gaijin hack trying to eke out an existence at the Daily Shimbun while living at the unlikely address of Roppongi Hills. But the anthology is carried by polished gems like Libby Cudmore’s tale of a really bad drunken tattoo experience in “Rough Night in Little Toke” and Setsuko Shinoda’s “The Long-rumored Food Crisis,” a chilling account of moral breakdown after the Big One levels Tokyo. “Hanzai Japan” is a phantasmagoric sushi platter of villainy with a dollop otherworldly wasabi. Crime was never so deliciously bizarre.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5