This is author Miyuki Miyabe’s third novel featuring as its narrator Saburo Sugimura, who works on the in-house magazine of the Imada Concern, one of Japan’s largest industrial conglomerates. Set three years after Dareka (Somebody) and two years after Na mo naki doku (Nameless Poison), it unfolds a complex story of human frailties and the breakdowns that ensue after years of lies and deception.
One evening in September 2006, a bus traveling to the train station from a coastal area dotted with well-appointed vacation homes and upscale eldercare facilities is hijacked by an elderly man with a handgun. The man immediately frees the female driver and one of the six passengers?a woman of advanced age?taking three men and two women as hostages. Among them are Sugimura and the editor-in-chief of his magazine, Ms. Sonoda, who are returning from an interview with former Imada Concern financial officer Mori at his vacation home. The hijacker conveys the names and addresses of three separate individuals to the police and demands that they be brought to him within an hour. After three hours the incident is resolved when the police storm the bus, the hijacker kills himself, and the hostages are rescued unharmed.
Three days later the hijacker is identified as Kazumitsu Kureki, 63?unemployed, impoverished, and living alone. Oddly, during the three-hour standoff Kureki had apologized to his hostages for inconveniencing them in order to achieve his own objectives and promised that they would be compensated: he had arranged for someone else to see to it after the incident was over. Sure enough, about one month later the driver and the six original passengers each receive parcels containing from one to five million yen in cash. Sugimura and the other former hostages meet up to discuss what they should do, but cannot agree on whether they should accept the money or not. They ultimately decide not to inform the police about these payments for the time being, while they search for the person who sent the packages, and see what they can find out about Kureki, whom they had previously understood to be impoverished. What kind of work had he been engaged in? Why had he demanded that the three people be brought to the bus? How had he obtained his gun?
They learn that Kureki is a false identity, which the hijacker had assumed by purchasing a copy of another man’s family register. His real name was Mitsuaki Hada, age 70. He had been a corporate trainer who used psychotherapy techniques for the professional development of employees, but then acquired the ability to make people do what he wanted through mind control and set himself up as a management consultant. His last job before retirement was as consultant to Nissho Frontier Associates, for a multilevel marketing scheme. By recruiting members who in turn recruited more members to sell the company’s natural spring water and water purifiers, Nissho had rapidly expanded its business. But a year before the hijacking, the company’s officers had been arrested for fraud. Hada had planned to take his very handsome payment from the company, acquire a new name, and enjoy the rest of his life under a different identity, but after a fishing accident in which he nearly drowned and went through a near-death experience, he had a change of heart. To atone for his complicit wrongdoings, he murdered the man who had been his partner in setting up the pyramid scheme, stole his gun, and then chose three Nissho members who had raked in the biggest profits, intending to expose them and the truth about Nissho to the world . . .