Keigo Higashino, that mega-bestselling author of crime thrillers and mysteries, offers up a fanciful tale in which a run-of-the-mill general store becomes a portal through time.
Three youths fresh from a burglary head for an abandoned house they’ve had their eye on to lie low for a while. Standing on the outskirts of town where there is little foot traffic, it is actually a combined residence and storefront, with a large sign above the front shutter identifying it as the Namiya General Store; but the place has obviously been out of business for a long time, and there are no indications of any recent habitation. As the three hide out there biding their time, something strange happens: in the dead of night, a letter drops through the slot in the front shutter. Unsigned, it’s from a female athlete preparing for “next year’s Olympics,” seeking advice as to whether she should continue training for her lifelong dream, or withdraw from competition to nurse her boyfriend, who has been told he has only a short time to live. After discussing how best to advise her, the three youths write an answer?actually a request for more information?and place it in the box intended for milk deliveries in back of the building. Almost right away, another letter drops through the slot, and proves to be the woman’s response to their answer. As the exchange continues, it becomes clear that the Olympics the woman has her sights set on are the 1980 Moscow games, and that they are corresponding with her across a gap of 33 years. They also realize that while her world of 1979 is moving forward in time at a rapid pace, time within the general store remains at a virtual standstill as long as they keep the back door closed.
Nearly 40 years earlier, shortly before closing down his business, the elderly owner of the store, Yūji Namiya, had gained some notoriety for providing free but carefully considered advice to anonymous supplicants. Ever since the death of his wife, he had found purpose in helping others work through their various troubles. The three youths learn of this through an article they discover in an old weekly magazine left on the premises. Although all three of them grew up in an orphanage, have no jobs, and have turned to crime, they decide that for this one night they will be Yūji Namiya’s successors, and they respond to three different requests for advice. It works very much to the advantage of all concerned that they know the future vis-à-vis those whom they are advising. They know that Japan withdrew from the Moscow Olympics, that both real estate and stocks saw a spectacular run-up in prices but then collapsed, and that the spread of personal computers would be followed by the rise of the Internet?all of which allows them to give truly valuable counsel, making the recipients extremely grateful. Amazingly, Yūji Namiya had foreseen that something like this might happen after his death, and he had written into his will that the store should be left standing right where it was.
A work to be savored, this is a rare foray into a more imaginative vein for author Higashino, but it displays the same careful plotting and attention to detail his readers have come to expect.