Book review: 『四万人の目撃し』by Yorichika Arima

Cover of 四万人の目撃者. The cover is a plain beige background with a black silhouette of a baseball player.
Title: 四万人の目撃者 (よんまんにんのもくげきしゃ)
First published: 1958
Published: 2015
Format: Digital
Series Number: 1
Page Count: 302
Yorichika Arima has written several detective novels, often described as social detective novels. 『四万人の目撃者』is the first book in the the prosecutor Takayama trilogy. It won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1959.

This book started with a very strong and intriguing setting: a baseball player falls during a match and dies soon after. 40,000 people witnessed his death which looks like a sudden cardiac arrest. Yet, prosecutor Takayama is not convinced, and even though nothing indicates foul play, he starts investigating.

The story has several different, but equally exciting, starting elements. First, the difficulty to lead an investigation when there is no official case and therefore, no real police support or justification to talk to people and ask questions.

Then obviously, there was the mystery of the ”how”. If there is murder, how was it done, given that 40,000 persons had their eyes on the field the whole time.

And finally, we had to find out who did it. There were different leads (work, family, baseball team) and different motives possible.

Unfortunately, none of these interesting elements turned out to be satisfactory. The investigation led by Takayama was a bit frustrating in my opinion. There are obvious key characters in this case whom he never speaks to because the investigation is not official. I also found the pace very slow, the investigation makes little progress, with limited clues and elements to work with. There are elements to pick up the pace (like the sudden disappearance of a character), but these elements always turn out to be disappointing in the end. In contrast with the general slow pace of the investigation, Takayama sometimes jumps to conclusions or finds a new lead of investigation without real support for it. For example, there is this threat of an incoming second murder that preoccupies Takayama during some parts of the book, but I am not sure I understood on which basis he anticipated a second murder. Maybe I missed it, but the whole thing felt unconvincing to me.

As for the ”how” the murder was done, I found it extremely underwhelming. I thought that maybe, the particularities of the baseball field and where the players were placed at what moment would play a role, but it is not this kind of mystery at all.

And as for ”who” did it, the mystery is even more underwhelming if possible. There is no real mystery or twist or surprising development. The investigation tends towards one obvious character and follows a straight line.

Finally, we follow a baseball player who becomes some sort of main character (apart from the investigation team), and I found these parts quite boring. At first, this character was closely linked to the case, so following him was interesting, but after some time, he becomes more and more disconnected with the case and the parts where he appears became more and more annoying to me. I could not care at all for him and his problems, be it his baseball career or his love relationship.

To conclude, this book is not really a satisfactory detective novel if you judge it from the point of view of the mystery. It is a more social and realistic depiction of the time and environment (here mainly, the baseball team and career aspiration of the players). I liked for example the description of forensic methods of the time, and the limitations it had. Unfortunately, I am not at all interested in baseball. If it can help to solve a murder, I am more than willing to study the rules and particularities of a baseball game, but just talking baseball for the sake of it was not that appealing to me (and the book also did not triggered my interest nor did it make me want to find out more about baseball, on the contrary!).

So if you like baseball, maybe you will enjoy this book more than I did, but I still think that the mystery and detective parts were too underwhelming to really keep a reader engrossed in the novel until the end, even a baseball fan.