James McKimmey's debut centers around the murder of a young woman in a small town. Townsfolk adored the victim, Grace, as a sort of tramp-with-a-heart-of-gold, and they are predisposed to accept the circumstantial evidence that points to a stranger--traveling salesman Al Jackson--as her killer. Jackson is a two-dimensional character (dimension #1: he's lecherous; dimension #2: he's a drunk), and the residents of Willow Creek are mostly small-town clichés. The novel's most interesting character is Buggie Alstair, who is a fraternity brother of a local boy and also a budding psychopath. On the whole, The Perfect Victim is sort of a tepid cross between Jim Thompson and Our Town. Grade: C
In the Miso Soup reminded me quite a bit of Gil Brewer's classic A Killer Is Loose (1954). Both books are narrated by an Ordinary Guy whose fate becomes entangled with that of a Roaming Homicidal Maniac. Both Brewer and Ryu Murkami invite readers to partcipate in Ordinary Guy's attempts to make sense of Roaming Homicidal Maniac, though in the case of Murakami, there is just as much time spent with Roaming Homicidal Maniac trying to make sense of himself. And this leads to my major complaint about In the Miso Soup: I have no problem in theory with books that become increasingly ponderous as they progress, but in this case that pondorousness comes at the expense of nearly everything else. The climax of the novel, such as it is, consists of Roaming Homicidal Maniac blathering on about his life story for 25 pages or so. And that's not much of a climax. Grade: C+
A: Excellent. I intend to read it again. B: Good. I might read it again. C: So-so. I didn't mind reading it. D: Bad. I resented reading it. F: Atrocious. I finished it only because I'm compulsive that way.