By Natsuo Kirino
Setting & details: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Authenticity of Japanese characters & dialogue: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Translation quality: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Entertainment value: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
My recommendation: A fabulous thriller that skillfully conveys just how cold and ingenious ordinary Japanese people can be, when pushed over the edge.
A brutal murder is just the beginning of this dark novel, where we watch an ordinary housewife and her friends cover up the crime with Ripley-esque practicality and utter absence of guilt.
This book takes place in the kind of gray suburb that sprawls outside all of Japan’s big cities, where ennui and discontent can blossom into homicidal resentment, and the smallest of triggers tips an ordinary, middle-aged woman into committing the most heinous of crimes.
The main character in this story works in the most mind-numbing of night jobs, assembling countless bento lunchboxes to be shipped to tens of thousands of convenience stores before the first commuters arrive to buy them at 6:00 am. Always exhausted from working odd hours, dissatisfied with the options her life offers, murder begins to seem like a viable means of escape.
She carries out her plan, but she hasn’t bargained with all that goes with it. Disposing of the body. The cover-up. Deciding who she can trust to help her with the heavy lifting. By the end of the book, it has all been dealt with in the most chilling—yet utterly believable—way.
Kirino gives us a fascinating peek into the lives of people who are barely keeping their heads above water as they struggle to survive in modern Japan. By the end of the book, the characters haven’t become more likeable, but you have to give them grudging respect for their unexpected ingenuity.
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Reviews of more Japan-centric books are in the JAPANAGRAM ARCHIVE
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon
“While The Last Tea Bowl Thief provides an intimate, in-depth exposé of the country’s artistic and emotional life, it never forgets to divert the reader.” —Historical Novel Society