Just before I went to Japan, I loaded a couple of Japanese novels onto my iPad so I wouldn’t have to lug a load of books around for 2 weeks. As it turned out, I only got through one book – Memoirs of a Geisha – in that time but I’ve been steadily working through the rest of this cloud library. One of these other novels is All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe.
All She Was Worth is an addictive, intriguing crime mystery novel set in Tokyo in the 1990s. Inspector Honma, a widowed detective recovering from a gunshot wound, receives an unexpected visit from Jun, his deceased wife’s nephew whom he barely knows. Juan’s beautiful fiancée, Shoko Sekine, has vanished into thin air immediately after he uncovered that she had been in debt. But why was this secret so shameful that Shoko had to abandon her life in Tokyo, and how did she manage to disappear without leaving a trace? As Honma begins to investigate and talk to people who knew Shoko a new question arises… Is Shoko really who she says she is?
All She Was Worth teases its story out slowly, making it very difficult to simply put the book down when you reach the end of a chapter. As Honma digs deeper into the life of Shoko Sekine, more questions are thrown up rather than answers, eventfully sending him shuttling between Tokyo and Osaka in a quest for the truth. The story really comes alive about halfway through but all the way it slowly builds the tension by creeping through to the heart-stopping finale. It’s a classic detective story and Miyuki Miyabe is considered one of Japan’s best mystery writers.
Despite being written nearly 20 years ago, All She Was Worth is set in a depressingly timeless era of loan sharks and credit card debts. Still reeling from Japan’s severe financial crash, the story is set against the backdrop of a creeping dependency on consumerism. Even the most responsible and level-headed individuals can fall into the sophisticated traps laid by salespeople and loan companies… Sound familiar? That said, in some ways the book is definitely a product of its time, with Honma huddling inside pay phones rather than whipping out his mobile and checking stuff out on the internet.
All She Was Worth is a brilliant Japanese mystery novel, slowly drip-feeding clues rather than whacking the reader over the head with pre-amble and exposition. Even if you’ve not read any other Japanese novels, it is a great standalone story and worth checking out. I’m going to have to hunt down some more Miyabe works…