Lieutenant Reiko Himekawa is the youngest female detective in the Homicide Division, and constantly under pressure because of it. She follows her gut instincts, and although she isn’t described as a psychic she has an undeniable penchant for ‘reading’ the guilty and the dead. On this occasion, however, none of the victims are surrendering up any clues. Could the murders have something to do with a man who died months earlier, his brain destroyed by a nasty water-borne bacterium? And what about the dead man’s sister, a mysterious young woman confined to a psychiatric hospital? When the cops receive a tip-off about an underground website called ‘Strawberry Night’, and Reiko begins to suspect that the murders may have been staged as some kind of performance art, her investigation steps up a gear. Reiko is desperate to solve the puzzle before anybody else, but her antagonistic rival Katsumata – who has no respect for Reiko’s reputation - is also hot on the trail.
The Silent Dead is the first in a long-running series of Reiko Himekawa novels. According to the author bio, the books have sold over one million copies in Japan and inspired a television mini-series and a theatrical feature film. On the basis of this entry, it’s hard to see why. Maybe the series improves, or maybe it’s the fault of the translation, but The Silent Dead is a strangely unsatisfying, antiseptic read. The dialogue is bland (the schoolyard bickering between the cops is especially irritating) and the mystery is not nearly as clever and convoluted as it wants to be. In fact, there’s nothing here we haven’t read or seen before - the emotionally dysfunctional protagonist with a strained personal life and a long-buried secret, the rivalry between cops, a vicious killer formed by an abusive childhood - there is no real depth to either the characters, the investigation or the rather lightweight conspiracy that surrounds ‘Strawberry Night’. Worse than that, there is no real tension either, not even when the twist is revealed. Even the incident in Reiko’s past – although undeniably horrifying – is so weakly described, it has no impact.
For a story that seems so preoccupied with the colour and meaning of blood, The Silent Dead is curiously bloodless. It is also that rare animal – a Japanese cult hit that hasn’t travelled well en route to the West.
THE SILENT DEAD / AUTHOR: TETSUYA HONDA / PUBLISHER: TITAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW