Friday, April 24, 2009

Book Review: Seicho Matsumoto, Points and Lines (1958)

I may never be able to fully untangle the degree to which the woodeness of some Japanese mystery novels is a function of (1) poor translations, (2) the Japanese language itself, (3) Japanese cultural norms (in particular, those governing politeness in speech), and/or (4) the conventions of the Japanese mystery novel (including the conventions of serial publication). In any case, I am learning to take this woodeness as a given, and it interferes less and less with my enjoyment of Japanese mysteries. Points and Lines is an enjoyable though fairly wooden (surprise!) police procedural centering on one man's alibi that he has built, in part, on being seen on trains and in train stations. Was it possible for him to have been at the scene of an alleged "love suicide" while also traveling as he appears to have traveled? According to the note on Seicho Matsumoto's life, the tremendous success of Points and Lines set off a "Matsumoto boom" in Japan. This fact perhaps says less about Points and Lines than it does about Japanese readers and their love of railroad timetables. Grade: B-

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