Book review: 『応家の人々』by Jokichi Hikage

Title: 応家の人々
First published: 1961
Page Count: 284
Lieutenant Kuga is sent to Tainan to investigate the death by poisoning of the secretary of the local police station. What is troubling is the relationship between this man and the widow of a Japanese police officer who has been murdered not long before. Is the police targeted or is it just ordinary crimes? Through his investigation, Kuga is going to travel through the South of Taiwan and meet all kinds of people.

It’s only the second book I read by this author, but Jokichi Hikage definitely belongs to my favourite Japanese authors. 応家の人々 is a mystery novel set in Taiwan in 1939, and I think that it might be the first time I read a novel set in Taiwan under Japanese rule.

The setting is really what drawn me into the book, even more so when I learnt that the author was posted in Taiwan during the War, making the novel even more appealing. As far as the setting is concerned, the book is a real gem that I highly recommend. It is the second mystery novel set in Taiwan written by Jokichi Hikage, and while the first one is centred on Taipei, this one explores the South of the island.

The description of the places that our narrator visits as well as the people he meets are what makes this novel stands out. We mostly meet Taiwanese, and it was interesting to see that our narrator would always comment on their Japanese level, young people learning it at school, while an old lady could not speak it at all. He also meets some Japanese, and one character in particular was very interesting, sharing his views about colonialism and his relationship to the occupied country.

As for the murder mystery, it started very strong, and I found it very engrossing at first. As the novel goes on, I found that it became more and more complex, reaching a scale much bigger than necessary. Some parts of the solution also felt unconvincing. Overall, I just think that the murder mystery is not the focus of the book, and it’s not the reason why you should read it.

In spite of the weaknesses in the plot, 応家の人々 still belongs to my favourite books, and I highly recommend it if you are interested in the setting.

Other books by this author:
狐の鶏 (きつねのとり)
内部の真実 (ないぶのしんじつ)