Home > Book, Book Review, Mystery, Reviews, Thriller > Book Review – ‘The Hunter’ (Takako Otomichi, book 1) by Asa Nonami

Book Review – ‘The Hunter’ (Takako Otomichi, book 1) by Asa Nonami

Book Description:

In The Hunter, the first English translation of the atmospheric, gritty and character-driven work of prize-winning, bestselling Japanese writer Asa Nonami, American readers are introduced to Takako Otomichi, a strong, complex female detective reminiscent of Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski and Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone.

Takako is a former motorbike patrolwoman-turned-detective who is partnered with an older, seasoned, misogynist detective in a murder investigation. Their search reveals that the victim ran a dating club for men to meet high-school girls, and had previously been involved in the nightclub underworld of Roppongi. Before long, the case is linked to another death, this time apparently the result of an attack by a large dog. As Takako and Takizawa question experts in kennel clubs and police dog training centers, the dog strikes again. They soon realize that the animal responsible is actually half-dog, half-wolf.

Since I don’t understand Japanese, I had to read the english translation by Juliet Winters Carpenter of ‘The Hunter’ (Takako Otomichi, book 1) by Asa Nonami. I don’t know how true to the real Japanese police culture this novel is, but since this Japanese police procedural was a 1996 winner of Japan’s Naoki Prize, I’m guessing that I shouldn’t have any complaints.

There was of course a lot of difficulty for me when I started reading this – I know next to nothing about Japanese culture and police procedures so there’s the initial culture shock, there’s the awkward dialogue that I took to come from the translation (or maybe that is how Japanese just speak), plus it took me some time to get used to the strange names (and remember just who they were!) and exotic settings. I did find the story interesting enough to offset these limitations (which were not the fault of the author).

The novel starts out with a bang, with what looks to be a case of spontaneous combustion in a restaurant. Eventually, police realize that they have a crime spree on their hands – the ‘spontaneous combustion’ case is found to be pre-meditated murder, and appears to be connected to a separate case – seemingly random people in Tokyo being attacked and killed by what is thought to be a wolf-dog.

And it’s up to heroine Takako Otomichi to work with her new partner Sgt. Tamotsu Takizawa to find the perpetrator and prevent new deaths. Takato has more to contend with than just tracking down the killers, however, she’s also up against a male-dominated police force who look down on women – primary example – her disapproving partner Takizawa who can barely bring himself to speak with her at first. Takato’s own family doesn’t support her career, and emotionally, newly-divorced Takato is a mess psychologically as well. The novel is mostly told from Takato’s POV and while I found the plot on the hunt for the killers already interesting, what I found even more interesting was seeing how the working relationship between Takato and her partner develop from the initial cold-war friction to a pretty good respectful give-and-take (for them) at the end. There’s a truly enchanting chase scene where we readers get to follow along as Takato gives chase to the run-away wolf-dog, while working in-sync with Takizawa. I would not have believed that possible when I started out reading the book. I also found it amazing how much is left unsaid by the characters (in line with Japanese culture), and yet, Asa Nonami manages to convey much to the reader inspite of this.

I thought that Asa Nonami gives us a pretty good glimpse into Tokyo life, the people, the culture, the police society – and that’s all a bonus to the main mystery. This isn’t really a thriller per-se, as nothing really exciting happens (like you’d expect from an American thriller), and things kind of bob along in this easy way – but it worked out for me in the end. I’m looking forward to hunting down the other novels in this series.

‘The Hunter’ (Takako Otomichi, book 1) by Asa Nonami is available on Amazon as a Hardcover ($20.79). Or you can just check it out at your friendly neighborhood library.

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