Freelance writer Sayoko Hamaoka is stabbed to death on the street. Shortly afterward, 68-year-old Sakuzo Machimura turns himself in to the police and confesses to the crime, claiming that he did it for money. But we ultimately learn that her murder is linked to a previously unknown killing perpetrated by two teenage sweethearts, 21 years before.
Eleven years prior to Sayoko’s own murder, her young daughter was killed by a man who had just been released from prison, a tragedy that left her sharply critical of a judicial system focused solely on the rehabilitation of criminals while remaining indifferent to the plight of the victims. Believing that anyone who takes the life of another human being should die for that crime, and wishing to amplify this point of view in public discourse, Sayoko was writing, at the time of her death, a book that was to be titled The Violence of Capital Punishment Abolitionism.
Deeply moved by the incomplete manuscript his wife left behind and encouraged by Sayoko’s editor, widower Michimasa Nakahara determines to complete the manuscript for publication. As he retraces some of Sayoko’s steps, he learns that a woman she interviewed named Saori Iguchi, now 36, had in her teens been lovers with confessed killer Sakuzo Machimura’s son-in-law, Fumiya Nishina, now 37. The teen lovers’ lives as adults could hardly have been less alike: besides repeatedly slashing her wrists, Saori has twice been convicted of shoplifting and has spent time behind bars, while Fumiya graduated from a well-known medical school and has built a happy family and successful career. The sharp contrast traces back to how they had together handled an unwanted pregnancy 21 years before?killing the newborn and burying it deep in the ground. Having uncovered this truth in the course of her reporting, Sayoko had pressured Saori to turn herself in, saying Fumiya should do the same; if they refused to do so, she would expose their crime herself.
Fumiya’s wife Hanae (Sakuzo’s daughter) had once yielded to a lover’s requests for large sums of money, only to then be abandoned by him when she became pregnant. She was in fact wandering about looking for a place to die with her unborn child when Fumiya had found her and prevented her from going through with her plan. The real reason Sakuzo murdered Sayoko was to preserve the happiness his daughter had found with Fumiya, which would be instantly torn to shreds if Sayoko were to go public with what Fumiya had done in his teens.
Although he has now learned everything that Sayoko knew before her death, Michimasa arrives at a different conclusion. When Fumiya acknowledges all, Michimasa says to him, “What must a person who killed someone do to atone for what he has done? I really don’t know how to answer that question. So whatever you conclude at the end of your torments, I’m going to consider that to be the right answer.” Not long after, he learns that Fumiya and Saori have turned themselves in to the police . . .
Author Keigo Higashino’s own variation on Crime and Punishment, this novel gives nuanced portrayals of the psychology of perpetrators and victims in three separate murders, delving deeply into the ramifications of capital punishment as well as the question of how a person can atone for wrongs he has committed.