Tracks in the Ice

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Tracks in the Ice
Author: Shino Sakuragi
Specifications: ISBN  978-4093864503
349 pages
13.5 x 19.5 cm / 5.4 x 7.8 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Shogakukan Inc.
Tokyo, 2016
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An elderly man’s body is discovered on a beach in the eastern Hokkaido port city of Kushiro, and the investigation begins with few useful clues to go on. The tale proceeds from there in the form of a conventional police procedural, but both the story of the investigator and the story she investigates emerge as explorations of the many vicissitudes of the bonds between parent and child.

The main character is Mayu Daimon, a 30-year-old police detective, and she is partnered with veteran detective Shūhei Katagiri, three years from retirement. They arrive on the scene to find the victim with his skull caved in, and they presume this to be the cause of death. There is nothing on his person to aid in identifying him, but he appears to have been in his seventies or eighties. One unusual thing that catches their eye is that he is wearing a short-sleeved shirt. Though the time is mid-July, the temperatures in this part of Hokkaido hadn’t even been reaching the upper sixties on most days.

Mayu grew up as the daughter of two cops. Her father Shirō has been retired from the force for five years and is now in rehab, following a stroke a year ago that paralyzed his left side. Her mother Kiyo has her hands full as his primary caregiver. It wasn’t until the high-school-age Mayu expressed an interest in joining the force, too, that Kiyo told her daughter she is not her biological mother. Two years after Kiyo and Shirō were married, Shirō had had an affair with a younger colleague and gotten her pregnant. Events after the baby was born led to Kiyo taking the child in and raising her as her own. Shirō requested a transfer out of the Criminal Affairs Department and spent the remaining 25 years of his career in the Traffic Division. Mayu’s investigative partner Katagiri is one of very few people left on the force who has known both Shirō and Kiyo from those earlier days, when Shirō was still a detective. Mayu’s true relation to her parents and how she feels about it ultimately play a significant role in the path the investigation takes.

The first break in the case comes when they get a match with a fingerprint on file from a traffic violation: the victim is identified as Nobuo Takigawa, age 80. A lifelong bachelor, he had driven a taxi until retiring five years ago, and his current address is in Sapporo. Further investigation reveals that he has no living relatives. Why was such a man found dead with his head bashed in more than 300 kilometers from home?

Next to surface is a possible link between Takigawa and a Kushiro woman named Sayuri Yonezawa, who runs a kamaboko (processed fish products) factory and shop catering to tourists. It is a popular destination that receives mention in various travel guides consulted by visitors to the city, but curiously, Takigawa had made repeated phone orders from Sapporo. Was he just a satisfied customer, or was there some other connection between him and Sayuri?

The original founder of the kamaboko business, Hikozō Yonezawa, had noticed Sayuri’s skill and business acumen and persuaded her to marry his son and heir, Hitoshi. Shortly after Hikozō turned the business over to Hitoshi and Sayuri 20 years ago, a fire had broken out at the factory, and Hikozō died in the blaze. Though he was now nominally the president of the company, the dissolute Hitoshi was clueless about what to do, so it fell to Sayuri to singlehandedly rebuild the business. Having been raised by a foster father, Sayuri appears at first to have no living relatives, but then it emerges that her mother is still living, and she also has an elder sister. Her mother Sachiko Namekata had for many years operated a strip joint in Hachinohe, a city on the Pacific coast near the northern tip of the main island. Her sister Chieko was fathered by the leader of a troupe of traveling entertainers Sachiko had worked with early on in her career. Sachiko tells Mayu that she’d had to sell off her two daughters due to poverty.

Takigawa, for his part, was born into one of the wealthiest families in Aomori, but he had been forced to drop out of college when his family went bankrupt. He wandered the entertainment district looking for work, and ultimately ended up as a live-in helper at the strip joint Sachiko ran, where at one time part of his job was to look after Sachiko’s two small daughters. He had recently recognized Sayuri in a segment featuring her flourishing kamaboko shop on television, and it had prompted him to reach out to the sisters in an effort to reunite them with their mother. Instead of welcoming his overtures, however, Chieko had killed Takigawa in order to keep secrets of the past from being revealed—especially to her sister.

The man named Senkichi Katō who had raised Sayuri, forcing her to work instead of even going to elementary school, was not only the one who had arranged the sale of Sachiko’s daughters but Chieko’s biological father as well, and Chieko still feels guilty for the way her father treated Sayuri. Further, when Chieko got married, she had changed her given name along with her surname to become Keiko Hyōdō. Running an insurance agency with her husband, she had kept an eye out for Sayuri over the years from close by without revealing her identity. It was Chieko/Keiko who had made sure that the beneficiary of the kamaboko company’s insurance policy would be the company itself rather than Hitoshi and his two sisters. Sayuri had been so wrapped up in running the business, just trying to get through one day at a time, that she had failed to recognize Keiko Hyōdō as her sister, and Chieko was hoping to keep it that way.

“You can’t throw something away and then go chasing after it,” says Sachiko when Mayu visits her at the nursing home where she now lives. Mayu realizes that she has never once had the slightest desire to meet the mother who had abandoned her at a temple when she was an infant.