While it would be difficult to write crime fiction that didn’t touch in some way on the subject of guilt, three new contributions to the genre are especially steeped in the themes of conscience and responsibility.
Seventeen, by Japanese former journalist Hideo Yokoyama (rivverrun, 404pp, £16.999), is the second of his novels to appear in English. In 2016, his Six Four, in which a police press officer made a personally disturbing breakthrough while supervising journalists reporting on a long-stalled disappearance case, was a big hit here.
Drawing even more directly on the author’s previous profession, the new book is in large part a docu-novel, showing a daily paper, the North Kanto Times, responding to the crash on its territory, in 1985, of a Japanese Airlines plane carrying 524 people, all assumed killed.
Yokoyama’s experience of reporting that story is reflected in the meticulous detail of both investigative journalism and air crash investigation, but the novel has concerns beyond historical recreation.
For those who live in cultures where corporations furiously resist taking responsibility – or governments set up lengthy and often inconclusive inquiries into scandals – there’s a provoking jolt when a rumour reaches the newsroom, soon after the accident, that the head of the airline is expected to take full responsibility in public. When Yuuki, the chief reporter, makes an error that costs the publishing company money, he calmly asks for the sum to be subtracted from his salary in monthly instalments.
These insights into Japanese culture – including the carefully calibrated protocols of bowing and remembrance of the dead – are part of the thrill of Yokoyama for an outsider audience.
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