I more or less managed to finish all the books I wanted to finish this month:
Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project
Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).
Similarly to last month, I only read one book in July. Maybe I should just admit that I am not a big fan of the mysteries from the 60s 🤔
『殺意という名の家畜』by Tensei Kono (河野典生) – winner of 1964
When it comes to crime fiction, I love all sub-genres and will be happy with anything, from whodunnits to legal thrillers, from locked-room mysteries to police procedurals. But there is a big exception: hardboiled fiction. It just does not work for me most of the time.
So it is no surprise that I did not really like 『殺意という名の家畜』even though I think that the novel is good. I could not stand Okada, our protagonist and a writer who leads the investigation. It looks like he despises women, but he decides to do all he can to investigate the disappearance of a woman he hardly knows. He does not seem to even care about her (he only met her once), so why should I care as a reader?
In 《13・67》, a novel by HK author Chan Ho-kei (陳浩基) which I am using to study Chinese, the police detective says:
A literal translation would be something like: The police has to stand by the victim’s side, and give voice to them who are silenced. (Or maybe just “take the side of the victim”? 🤔)
That’s what I want to hear my detective say! I like this kind of ideal, the desire to bring justice that drives most detectives in fiction. But in 『殺意という名の家畜』, there is no emotions, no sense of justice, no passion for truth. So… good book but not for me!
Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.
I decided to ignore the prompt this month (most beautiful book on TBR) and just picked a mystery (but the cover is awesome, so I guess it is not that far away from the prompt. I also want to add that the cover has a gummy feel to it, I don’t know how to describe it, but it is very pleasant to the touch).
Since the tremendous success of books like 불편한 편의점 (김호연) and 달러구트 꿈 백화점 (이미예), there is a Korean trend of feel-good books that take place in a store. But 기억 서점 by 정명섭 (Jeong Myeongseop) is not such a heart-warming story. It is a a story of vengeance. We have got a serial killer, a bunch of suspects, and a vengeance carefully prepared over 15 years.
The book is easy to read, not the best mystery I have ever read, but still very entertaining. I am looking for more Korean mysteries that would have this level of language difficulty. There are so many such books in Japanese, but there are not many Korean authors of mystery fiction, and a lot of the mysteries I have read were much more difficult.
20th Century reading challenge
Read a book set in each decade of the 20th Century in chronological order (publication date does not matter).
For the 1950s, I chose to read about Vietnam at the end of the First Indochina War, as French colonialism is starting to break down and make room for what Pyle, in The Quiet American by Graham Greene, calls a Third Force.
I did not like this novel at all at first, and it is only when I reached the middle of it that I started to find the characters and the story interesting, and I ended up loving the second half of the novel.
The first half talked about Pyle, but I did not find him an interesting character at all at first. The dispute between Pyle and our narrator Fowler over the young Vietnamese woman Phuong were just interesting in that it showed some racial prejudice of the time (for example, that Vietnamese women cannot feel love and passion like Westerners), otherwise, I found these parts rather boring and repetitive.
The turning point has been the night where the two protagonists are trapped in the guard tower and talk about their views for the country. I understood Pyle better at this point, and his opinions, his idealism and naivety, as well as his actions which we learn about later, started to take shape and foretell the danger to come.
From this moment, I found both the story fascinating and could not put the book down whereas it took me forever to read the first half.
I also read two contemporary mysteries this month, and though they are from different authors, they also felt very similar.
In both books, a murder happens at the beginning, and the story, while still providing an interesting mystery as to who the culprit is, also offers an intense journey into people’s relationship with each other, people’s past, how colleagues, friends and family members see each other, and what everyone secretly think about the ones they see on a daily basis.
『白ゆき姫殺人事件』by Kanae Minato (湊かなえ) has the most interesting structure were a journalist interviews several people, but in the accounts of the interviews, we only get to hear the interviewee’s voice. I found this extremely well done and well written. We have directly access to each person’s testimony without the interference of a narrator.
『白光』by Mikihiko Renjo (連城三紀彦) has a more classic structure, but we get to hear different versions of the same events. I admire how the author managed to give several plausible explanations for what happened, but similarly to Kanae Minato’s book, we have to understand the characters’ psychology to understand the murder.
Both books were really relaxing to read in terms of language level. Sometimes, books that won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award can be more difficult to read, and I need to be very focused and occasionally look up words. 白ゆき姫殺人事件 and 白光 were really easy to read to me.
Finally, I have no interest whatsoever in the copper mines of Montana, and I had never heard of the Butte disaster of 1917, but somehow, Fire and Brimstone by Michael Punke, appeared in my Audible recommendations and I gave it a try. This book is not just about the accident that cost the life of 164 men, but also the whole story of the copper mines, how some made a fortune through them, political scheme and growing tension during WWI, the life of the miners and of course, their battle to survive during the disaster.
I must say that this book managed to get me involved and interested in a topic that I knew nothing about prior to reading it.
There are also several books that I started in June and still haven’t finished, and I am still studying Chinese with《13・67》. I am halfway through chapter one, and I am enjoying this book more than I can tell.