Book review: 『細い赤い糸』by Takashi Asuka

細い赤い糸 (ほそいあかいいと)
Title: 細い赤い糸 (ほそいあかいいと)
First published: 1961
Published: 1977
Format: Digital
Page Count: 248
細い赤い糸 won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1962.

When I read a mystery, I always jump into the story without reading the synopsis and without having any knowledge of the plot. I do this because I had some bad experiences with summaries on the back cover revealing too much, sometimes mentioning events that would only take place halfway through the book. I also like reading without knowing where the story will take me.

With this novel however, I wish I had read about the story before starting it. I was really close to giving it up halfway through, because I could not see where the story was going and the experience was a bit frustrating.

If you don’t want to know anything about the story of this book before reading it, you should stop reading this review now. However, I do think that this book is more enjoyable if you know where you are going.

This book opens with a story of corruption in a company. To be honest, I really had a hard time getting into the first chapter, we don’t know much about the corruption thing, and the novel just does not tell us enough about it to make us care. Same for the characters, I did not really care about them, and their actions seemed unconvincing because we don’t know them at all. I did not like the first chapter, but I was willing to wait and see.

Then the second chapter starts with completely different characters who have nothing to do with the first story. It felt frustrating because I was doing my best to find some interest in the first story, and we suddenly leave them here and switch to another story which I found equally difficult to get into. At this point, I was really tempted to give up the book, but the end of the second chapter finally reveals what it is all about: a serial killing.

This is the main point of the book. We get through four different stories and see four different characters who are all going to be a victim. The focus of the book is to know why they are killed and what could possibly link them together. I do think that if you know that before starting the novel, things become much more interesting as you can start looking for clues right from the beginning. It also makes sense, in a way, that each story seems rushed through, because the main topic lies elsewhere.

When I understood where the book was leading me, I started enjoying it much more. However, I also do think that, while the idea is excellent, the execution could have been better done. First, I find the book too short for its purpose. I would have been better if each story was a little bit more developed so that they would be interesting for themselves and not just as a part of a higher scheme. I also find that something should hold all these stories together. At the end of each chapter, we see the police investigating and eventually understanding that they are dealing with a serial killer, but these parts are very short, and you start seeing a pattern only at the end of the second chapter (at this point, we are more than 40% into the book).

Finally, the book just does not give enough clues. It is not impossible for the reader to work the solution for themselves, but you can only do that after a certain point, when some key elements are finally given. It would have been so much better if more clues had been laid all along, so that reading each story would have been more compelling. I could even see myself re-reading one of the first chapters to look for connections, but I felt that you cannot really see the link before the novel gives you some key information.

In the end, the solution turned out to be quite good, and I loved the last 25% of the book, when we are done with the different stories and follow the police investigation. I found this part very engrossing and I liked the solution as well. I just found that it was a bit unfair to the reader, as the story does not disclose some key elements until the end and some connections are difficult to make without them.