A partially skeletonized body is discovered in a suburban Tokyo condominium building. Based on personal effects found nearby, the body is identified as that of Yōko Suzuki, 40. Detective Ayano Okunuki, a woman of about the same age, heads up the investigation. She learns that Yōko had been married at least four times, and that three of her husbands had died in traffic accidents under similar circumstances: run over by a car late at night while dozing on the street after a bout of heavy drinking. When it also emerges that all three men had large life insurance policies payable to Yōko, Ayano suspects the woman was involved in a murder-for-insurance scheme. Further leads reveal that Takeshi Kōjiro, the 54-year-old director of an NPO who is found brutally murdered in Edogawa Ward, was the mastermind behind it.
The ostensible mission of Kōjiro’s NPO was to help homeless men get back on their feet, but the organization’s true MO was to exploit the homeless for its own gain by having those who came under its wing apply for government assistance and then skimming off the lion’s share of the payments they received. Kōjiro also set up fake marriages between homeless men and Yōko, then arranged for other homeless men to kill them in staged accidents so Yōko could claim the insurance payouts. When an accomplice confirms that Yōko is the one who killed Kōjiro, the investigators conclude that Yōko’s own death is best explained as the suicide of a conscience-stricken woman. At about this same time, the driver’s license of Yōko’s long-missing father, who disappeared ten years before, turns up on the body of a homeless man found dead. However, DNA tests indicate that the man could not have been Yōko’s father. While the other investigators simply assume the man is someone else who happened to find the driver’s license somewhere, Ayano suspects it is the body identified as Yōko that is actually someone else . . .
Yōko had grown up in a regional city, where she had had an untroubled childhood as the first-born daughter in an average family. After completing junior college, she had gone to work for a local firm, and she looked forward to a modest and predictable life of marriage and motherhood just like her own mother. But then her father disappeared following massive losses in the stock market, and Yōko’s own marriage ended in divorce after her husband cheated on her, removing any semblance of predictability from her life. Society offered little in the way of a safety net for a woman trying to make it on her own with no special skills, and she found the harsh realities of life difficult to navigate. It was after hopping from one job to another?telephone operator, insurance agent, sex worker?that she became involved in the murder-for-insurance scheme. She had finally put an end to her life as Yōko Suzuki by using another person’s body to make it appear that she had died.
In its deftly plotted and compellingly realistic focus on the struggles of lonely, alienated characters who have fallen through the cracks?a woman without family or any substantial means of support, homeless men who have dropped out of society, and others who do not conform to mainstream norms?the work brings to mind the mysteries of the late Seichō Matsumoto, for its attention not just to crimes but to the social contexts in which they occur.
A sample English translation of a portion of this book is available upon request.