Book review: 『焦茶色のパステル』by Futari Okajima

焦茶色のパステル (こげちゃいろのぱすてる)
Title: 焦茶色のパステル (こげちゃいろのぱすてる)
First published: 1984
Page Count: 448
Ryuichi Ootomo, a horse racing journalist, has been shot on a ranch, together with the ranch manager and two horses. Ryuichi’s wife, Kanae, is a stranger to the world of horse racing, but several occurrences push her into investigating Ryuichi’s death.

This novel won the Edogawa Rampo prize in 1982 and was published the same year, becoming the debut novel of the authors duo Futari Okajima.

The authors had written a previous novel, あした天気にしておくれ, but it failed to win the Edogawa Rampo prize and was only published later (in 1983). To me, even though あした天気にしておくれ is an excellent mystery, 焦茶色のパステル manages to be even better if possible.

Both novels are about horse racing, but they differ in topic. I personally found that some details related to betting were a bit difficult to fully grasp in あした天気にしておくれ, but the topics in 焦茶色のパステル (more focused on the horses pedigree and breeding rather than races and betting) did not present anything hard to get into.

It also helps that this time, our protagonist, Kanae, is an outsider to the world of horse racing. Other characters will explain everything to her, which makes it easier for the reader to get into the story. Kanae will also be shocked at things that are both revolting and distressing, but that people in the hobby consider as normal and common practice. To me it feels like the authors intentionally made their novel more easily accessible to a wide audience by giving us a protagonist that had to be introduced step by step to the world of horse racing.

The plot is also very engrossing and led by a fast pace that makes the book a real page-turner. We learn a lot about racehorses, but the story never loses its pace and everything we learn is related to the case and is useful to the investigation. Definitely one of the best mysteries that I have read in Japanese.

It looks like horse racing was a favourite topic of the authors in their earlier writing period as their first three published novels are all about this topic, to the point where I saw them called “the horse racing trilogy”, even though they are not related and can be read independantly. Next on my reading list is 七年目の脅迫状, which belongs to this trilogy.

Other books by this author:
Cover of チョコレートゲーム. The focus of the cover image is a small desk and two chairs facing the desk, typically the kind that are used in classrooms. On the table there is some kind of board game involving chocolate bars. There are also bank notes and chocolate around it.
解決まではあと6人 (かいけつまではあとろくにん)
99%の誘拐 (きゅうじゅうきゅうぱーせんとのゆうかい)
Cover of 七年目の脅迫状. Illustration: a brown horse is grazing on a green background.