Lieutenant Reiko Himekawa heads a team of homicide investigators at Tokyo Metropolitan Police headquarters. They are dispatched to the city’s gritty Ota Ward, where a human hand had been found without a body. From fingerprints, its owner is soon identified as Kenichi Takaoka, operator of a small construction company.

Soul Cage, by Tetsuya Honda, Translated by Giles Murray.
299 pages
MINOTAUR, Fiction.

Working in pairs, detectives canvas the neighborhood, including the makeshift shacks of homeless men who reside along the Tama River. Questioning the victim’s co-workers at his former company, the story touches on the cozy ties between the construction industry and organized crime, but tattooed bad guys do not dominate the narrative.

Himekawa’s search moves to the north Tokyo neighborhood where the victim grew up, providing fascinating insights into police procedure, Japanese style, and the way investigators piece together the fragments of a murder victim’s life is somewhat reminiscent of the technique made famous by the late Canadian-American mystery author Ross MacDonald.

Readers are likely to find “Soul Cage” more satisfying than “The Silent Dead,” Honda’s previous work in English, which exaggerated Himekawa’s rivalries with her fellow cops; dwelt excessively on her personal problems (before joining the police she herself was a rape victim); and was overly strewn with English idioms and slang terms.

Happily, none of the above flaws tarnish the work under review, which metamorphoses from a whodunit to a “how’dhedoit” — and that takes some doing.

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