Before turning mystery novelist, Hideo Yokoyama worked as an investigative reporter for a newspaper in Gunma Prefecture, Japan. His book “Prefecture D” is actually four novellas, each an intriguing story describing the complex relationships and bureaucratic tensions between individuals in the prefecture’s police force. This book is a perfect introduction to the political and social undercurrents that govern Japanese society. Like all good mysteries, each novella holds the reader in suspense until the surprising end.
In “Season of Shadows,” the first novella, Shinji Futawatari, who works in the Administrative Affairs department of Prefecture D’s police headquarters, is told he must solve the problem of a revered, legendary detective who refuses to step down from an executive position. The detective has his own agenda that he refuses to reveal. To solve the mystery, Futawatari must carefully navigate not only the bureaucracy but also the complex hierarchy separating him from his superiors.
Internal Affairs officer Takayoshi Shindo, in “Cry of the Earth,” is told by Division Chief Takegami to look into an anonymous letter accusing Yoshio Sone, the Division Chief of Public Safety at Station Q, of seeing the proprietress of a red-light district establishment – a warning he soon learns is a red herring.
The third novella, “Black Lines,” focuses on the women working as police officers in Prefecture D. When forensics sergeant Yoshio Sone fails to show up for work, she is presumed missing, and Section Chief Tomoko Nanao is tasked with finding her. Like the rest of the world, Japan has its own problems with gender discrimination. Nanao must deal with this as she seeks to unravel the mystery of her colleague’s disappearance.
“Briefcase,” the fourth novella, begins when Prefecture D’s government members plan to take part in a question-and-answer session with the police. Political Liaison Masaki Tsuge learns that a wronged politician is preparing his revenge against the police, and he must quickly find out what he can do to silence the angry man. At first, it seems a briefcase may hold the answer, but twists and turns abound.
Yokoyama’s storytelling is unusual, and his denouements contain twists. His psychological insights into his characters’ behavior – together with his succinct, descriptive prose – make for enjoyable reading.
Japanese can be a difficult language to translate and translators need to pay close attention to cultural nuances to ensure the correct context is represented. A shout-out needs to be given to the book’s translator, Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, born in Wales, who has done a yeoman’s job here.
Yokoyama never clearly defines the location of Prefecture D. Though Japan has 47 prefectures from which to choose, it’s probably based on one in a mountainous location in the middle of the country. Regardless, his attention-grabbing prose soon sweeps you into his mysteries and holds your attention until the end. “Prefecture D” may be missing the mayhem of the usual crime novel, but its page-turning narrative is not only captivating but also provides insight into Japanese society.