Inspired by an unsolved true-crime kidnapping case that riveted Japan, this first English-language translation of one of Japan's most respected crime writers follows a group of men with a grievance against Japan's largest beer conglomerate as they plot to kidnap the CEO and extract blood money from the company's corrupt financiers.
Is Lady Joker worth the build-up? It’s hard not to feel like a TV reviewer being asked to pass judgement on a new miniseries after only the first (extra-long, perhaps) episode. But, on the basis of what remains an incomplete reading, the answer would be yes ... The sense of effectively watching while reading is both surreal and (literally) entrancing. The story, which is anyway a very slow burn, hardly matters ... Although well-plotted, the plot emerges from the multitude of fragmented and kaleidoscopic character vignettes. Lady Joker is a psychological thriller in that everything comes from the interaction of personalities, a large number of very complex personalities, rather than action. There is a temptation to sketch out the sort of diagram one sees on cork boards in police shows, with pictures, scrawled notes and bits of string connecting one person of interest to another. But Takamura quite masterfully makes this unnecessary: the characters are fleshed out, the matrix of relations is clarified and the holes get filled in. Corporate offices, police stations, newsrooms, restaurants and golf courses all come into focus ... At a time when TV series are released all at once for binge-watching, not having the second half immediately available is somewhat (and perhaps deliberately) annoying. But at least I don’t have to worry about revealing any plot spoilers: I haven’t a clue how it turns out. Stay tuned.
... A swarm of characters, an unorthodox structure, and slow-moving, ultimately irresistible suspense ... wildly ambitious in scope. But unlike those books, its tone is deadpan, almost reserved. Perhaps because this is a translation, Lady Joker isn’t about color or poetry. It’s a patient, inclusive and nuanced book about a culture that values calm and teamwork, even at the expense of the individual ... Takamura has written far more than a mystery. She has dug into the roots of contemporary Japanese society, including the country’s attitudes toward lower-caste Japanese known as burakumin, as well as zainichi Koreans who have permanent residency status ... a deep dive into a society in flux, straining to accommodate individuality, even eccentricity. It’s powerful, but not perfect. Takamura takes the reader all over the country, and the geography can be distracting. In addition, many references are specific to Japan.
This isn't the book for readers looking for the immediate gratification of straight-to-the-action crime fiction ... There's quite a bit about the complex ties between companies, finance, politics, and shady organizations...much of which can be rather confounding to readers not familiar with this system. The novel certainly does bog down some in especially the Okada and related happenings, but the main point...certainly comes across ... Much of the novel is also simply about process: the workings of a corporation, the police, and the press, which Takamura presents in considerable detail (indeed, at times the novel is arguably too detailed here) ... Lady Joker impresses with its scale and patience, only occasionally getting long-winded, particularly in some of the explanations regarding the corporate/criminal-connections and surrounding activity; there's also a bit of unnecessary repetition (mainly about this sort of thing, where repetition unfortunately doesn't make it much clearer). Takamura's expansive presentation is unusual, but effective; if some of the issues remain a bit confusing...the basics are clear enough. Lady Joker isn't action-packed or -focused, but Takamura's attention to foundations—carefully building up her story—makes for a novel of considerably greater depth than your usual crime novel ... there's enough here to satisfy, a large canvas that, even if without resolutions, offers a thoroughly engaging read.