In this masterwork of hardboiled suspense, an exquisitely wrought plot keeps readers guessing all the way to the jaw-dropping reveal.
A bomb goes off in Tokyo’s busy Shinjuku district, injuring 21 and killing two. One of the dead, a man, is believed to be the bomber, and the other is Tamae Kuraki, wife of Public Security Bureau investigator Naotake Kuraki. The suspected bomber is identified as a freelance writer name Kakei, whom police learn is a leading member of a radical left-wing organization. Police also determine that the explosive was a new type of time bomb being used by anti-government guerrillas in Latin America, and that it had gone off by accident. Assuming Kakei was indeed the bomber, who or what was the intended target? With the investigation foundering, Kuraki, who has been removed from the team by his superior but is bent on avenging the death of his beloved wife, begins pursuing the case on his own.
Kuraki soon learns that a man named Kazuhiko Shingai had been pursing Kakei on the day of the incident. Shingai works for Hōmei Enterprises, which is affiliated with an ultra-right-wing group; most of the time he manages a pub, but in fact he is a highly skilled terrorist and assassin who calls himself “The Shrike,” and has apparently carried out multiple hits under orders from Hōmei. Kuraki finds the man convalescing at a hospital in a town on the Sea of Japan coast. He had miraculously survived a fall from a cliff at the nearby cape and was subsequently rescued by a fisherman. Police have concluded that it was an attempted suicide, but Shingai himself suffers from amnesia and can shed no light on the matter. Shingai then disappears from the hospital, and both Kuraki and some Hōmei operatives pursue his whereabouts. For his part, Shingai follows what meager leads he has, including the possibility that he has a sister, in an effort to find out what actually happened.
The plot thickens midway through the novel when it comes out that The Shrike is not Kazuhiko but his twin brother Hiromi, who normally lives alone as a transvestite. It turns out Kazuhiko had already been killed by Hōmei operatives, and Hiromi, now posing as Kazuhiko, is knocking off those operatives one by one. As he pursues his vengeance, the truth about the bombing incident gradually comes into focus.
The mastermind, it is revealed, was none other than Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Public Security Bureau Chief Muroi. Muroi and Tamae had been lovers both before and after she married Kuraki, and Tamae had placed the bomb in Kakei’s bag under instructions from Muroi. With close ties to the justice minister in the current administration, Muroi has in fact instigated an entire string of incidents aimed at drawing the spotlight onto his bureau in his desire to gain promotion over his rivals. His true target in this case turns out to have been President Echevarria of Sardonia, a fictitious Latin American oil-producing country, who was scheduled to visit Japan in a little over a month. In the midst of a coup d’état, Echevarria had killed Muroi’s son-in-law, so he had laid plans with anti-Echevarria forces in Sardonia to assassinate the president while he was in Tokyo.
The book is the first in a long-running series of works featuring The Shrike and Kuraki. Old-school detective Ryōta Ōsugi and knockout Public Security Bureau investigator Miki Akeboshi are also well-developed characters who shine in the series.