Book review: 『人喰い』by Saho Sasazawa

The cover of 人喰い. The cover is very simple: on a completely black background, two thick horizontal blue lines and the name of the author and the title of the book written in red on the black background. No illustration.
Title: 人喰い (ひとくい)
First published: 1960
Published: 2016
Format: Digital
Page Count: 320
『人喰い』won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1961. After winning the prize, Saho Sasazawa resigned from his post at the Postal Ministry to become a full-time writer.

『人喰い』is a short novel with a simple plot and a small number of characters. We follow Sakiko, whose elder sister has disappeared, leaving a suicide note. The story is very straightforward, the narration rarely switches focus and the investigation mostly relies on deduction more than clues or interrogation of witnesses.

I really enjoyed this book, especially because the last winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award I read was going in too many directions in my opinion: there were a lot of different topics, different leads and motives, no consistency in the characters we followed. As a result, I appreciated the simpler line of this one, even though one could also argue that it has too few characters, which makes the outcome a bit foreseeable.

Sakiko’s means to investigate are very limited, so a good part of her investigation is based on reflexion, with scenes where we see her think about the case through and through, testing eventualities and work her way to the truth. I found these parts well done and enjoyable to read.

The end was also very good, and overall, it was a very pleasant read, though part of me also find it surprising that it won the Award (the book is good, but there is really nothing special in it either). Maybe I am expecting too much from the award winners and end up a bit disappointed as a result? Anyway, it is still a nice mystery that I recommend if you like the genre.