終着駅殺人事件 belongs to the long series of books featuring Kyotaro Nishimura’s detective, Chief Inspector Totsugawa, and taking place on the trains running all over the country. I couldn’t find a list of the books of the series in order, but it looks like they can be read independently.
This book is among my favourite winners of the MWJ Award so far (it won the prize in 1981) and it is also among the easiest to read. It is really pure enjoyment and entertainment, easy to read, fast pace and a lot of dialogues: a page-turner!
The story takes place between Tokyo and Aomori, with the two stations, Aomori station and Ueno station, playing an important role in the story. And of course, the blue train, a long distance sleeper train, that links the two stations. The book was written in 1980, and the blue trains that are featured in the story are no longer in service today. Aomori station also got a new building, and I don’t know if the old building described in the book is still used today.
One thing that I really loved with this novel is the topic of leaving one’s city to go to the capital and how the station that brings you back to your home country bears a different meaning, a different odour than the other stations. Setting foot in this station feels like coming back home already. As someone who has also come to live in a capital coming from the province, I could relate very easily to this topic and found that it was very well described.
Another thing that makes this novel stand out is that it managed to create some sort of nostalgia for the old Aomori station and the old sleeper trains that have been replaced by the Shinkasen and regional airports. I have never been to Aomori, and I only visited Japan three times, but the book was so well done that it made me feel like I was, like the protagonists, coming to Tokyo from Aomori.
As for the mystery and the case in itself, I found it excellent. Sure, you can question the feasibility of all this in the end, but the investigation is fast paced and really engrossing. I loved how the police from Tokyo and from Aomori had to cooperate to solve the case as certain clues were in one city and others in the other.
The train not only links the two cities together, but it is also like the spine of the story.
I am amazed that a story that is so easy to read and so entirely based on dialogues still manages not only to give an engrossing story, but also a deeper, nostalgic meaning.