Monday, January 11, 2010

Review of Shinjuku Shark by Arimasa Osawa, translated by Andrew Clare (Vertical, 2007 [1990])

Detective Samejima is a maverick and the outcast of the Shinjuku police department. Acknowledged as a brilliant investigator, Samejima is unwilling to play by the rigid rules and institutional hierarchies to progress as a career officer. The fact that he survives at all is because he knows too much about the role of the higher echelons of the force in the death of a colleague. He is known as ‘the shark’ to the local yakuza gangsters because he refuses to play by the unofficial rules that govern how the police interact with them. Working alone, he is pursuing Kizu, the maker of customized weapons. Then policemen start to be murdered. It seems to Samejima that the two cases might be related, but not to the rest of the force. He thus has two battles on his hands – tracking down a cold-blooded killer and to persuade his colleagues of the validity of his line of investigation.

Shinjuku Shark is the first novel in the bestselling Japanese crime series and winner of the Japan Mystery Writers Association Award. Over his career Arimasa Osawa has won numerous prizes and his writing has been adapted for the big and small screen. The back of the book blurb states, “Prepare for a relentless journey of suspenseful twists and turns that will leave you breathless.” Given all the plaudits I was expecting a terrific read. Unfortunately the book did not leave me in a state of suspense or breathless. The story is relatively straightforward, Samejima is a simulacrum of every maverick cop on the planet, and the writing is mostly flat and lifeless. Clearly there is something going on here. My suspicion is that Japanese probably has a different narrative and sentence structure, as well as diction, which makes translation that captures the subtleties and sophistication of writing quite difficult. As a result, perhaps the work is not necessarily shown in its best light and it’s a passable read at best.

3 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks for this honest and thorough review. I'm woefully ignorant about Japanese crime fiction, so even though you weren't exactly bowled over by this one, it's good to have your insights.

Dorte H said...

A very interesting review. I have read a few translations of French books, and they often strike me as annoying and boring, because the French use so many short sentences.

It will be interesting to see what happens when we get more Asian reviews, but I am probably not the only reader who has picked novels with a British flavour. I think various African cultures are easier to understand for Europeans than Asian ones.

Lou Boxer said...

Osawa is off my list! So little time, so many books! Thanks for making my decision making that much easier.