The Silent Dead by Tetsuya Honda Translated by Giles Murray
An instinct-driven homicide detective breaks open a gruesome series of murders, even as the killer begins to close in on her.
Tetsuya Honda is a bestselling mystery and crime fiction writer. Several books from the Lieutenant Reiko Himekawa series have been adapted for TV and film, including the film Strawberry Night, based on Book 1 of the series, The Silent Dead.
Giles Murray was born in London, schooled in Scotland and moved to Tokyo to study Japanese after graduation. He has also translated Kaoru Ohno’s Cage on the Sea, Kumiko Kakehashi’s So Sad to Fall in Battle and Masahiko Fujiwara’s The Dignity of The Nation.
Corpses aren’t typically very talkative, and those in Tetsuya Honda’s The Silent Dead are surrounded by a particularly gruesome hush. The book is the first in a series that follows Reiko Himekawa, a daring homicide detective who made lieutenant two years earlier at the age of 27. When a body is discovered in the bushes of a quiet suburban neighbourhood of Tokyo, Himekawa and her team are called to the scene. The body was meticulously wrapped in blue plastic, yet carelessly left where it could easily be seen. Underneath the plastic, detectives find that the victim was ritually tortured before having his throat slashed, yet in life, he’d been a diligent husband and salesman at an office furniture company.
The pieces don’t add up. While some of the team carefully check every procedural box, Himekawa follows a hunch. Her rogue investigation turns up another body, and it begins to look more and more like the killer didn’t act alone. As the scope of the case expands, the detectives from Himekawa’s squad are forced to work closely with each other, and with members of other departments. The results are often tense, with clashing personalities and plenty of misogyny from some of Himekawa’s male colleagues. The cast of detectives ranges from the despicable, self-promoting former intelligence officer “Stubby” Katsumata to the comical, puppy-dog Detective Ioka, who can’t stop thinking of Himekawa romantically.
Even as she hunts for the killers under a ticking clock, Himekawa fights a range of internal battles, from leering sexual propositions to outright witness poaching and being undermined in front of her superiors. Undeterred, she shuts down every harasser, and despite it all, still trusts and respects the men of her core squad, who feel more like family than her real family does. But there’s a reason she’s so driven to the life of a detective: she struggles with a trauma from her past. The support of a female detective inspired her to join the force. Now that some years have passed, however, and her case refuses to break, Himekawa wonders if she’s been changed for the worse by her ambitious rise. Little does she know she’s closer to the killers than she feels—and they’re also closing in.
Though the translator sometimes uses weirdly archaic or overly Western colloquial terms, the book makes for an entertaining overall read with some shocking twists, and a close eye for the psychology of both the “bad guys” and those who’d call themselves the “good guys.” Fans of procedurals will enjoy the cultural differences on display here: cops don’t usually pack heat, and there are few police cars on site, so the detectives have to talk shop in hushed voices on the train. But what’s even more striking is how vocally Honda’s novel speaks about bigotry and violence against women, and the difficult, tenuous emotional connections women make with each other under society’s rigid expectations. The misogynous scenes are sometimes hard to read, but Himekawa’s story ultimately triumphs. The book feels especially timely considering recent news and social media discussions about men who attempt to broker power through violence against women. A good read for any fan of crime novels, but an equally good read for someone interested in tough female protagonists who face such violence head on.
More from the authors
Lieutenant Himekawa’s team finds a severed hand that belongs to a man who killed himself 13 years earlier. Can they solve this case of stolen identity?