The Lady Killer

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 12 Jul 2018

Member Reviews

An artful, old fashioned Japanese Mystery noir that kept me on the edge of my seat. Honestly, I was nervous when I requested this title. I was craving a mystery story and wanted something new (I usually read thrillers or fantasies), but I love that this book kept my attention. I had no clue WHO to trust in the book, and loved every page.
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First published in Japan in 1963; published in translation by Pushkin Vertigo on October 30, 2018

Pregnant from a one-night stand, Keiko Obana hangs from a windowsill until she plunges to her death. The police rule the death a suicide, but the inspector who investigates the case believes Keiko killed herself because of the pregnancy. So does a woman who believes her death is attributable to the rogue who made her pregnant.

After that prelude, the story follows Ichiro Honda (the rogue) as he seduces one woman after another, always assuming an identity other than his own, generally pretending to be foreign visitor to Japan. Honda keeps a diary of his sexual conquests that he refers to as his “Huntsman's Log.” The reader also follows Honda’s surprised response when he discovers that some of the women he seduced have been murdered. He even finds one of them dead when he turns up for a new assignation. Of course, the reader knows it is only a matter of time before Honda is blamed for the deaths.

The novel’s second half shifts the focus away from Honda to a young lawyer named Shinji who is helping an older lawyer handle Honda’s case. The older lawyer is the novel’s Sherlock, while Shinji does all the investigative legwork. Shinji is startled to learn that one of Honda’s conquests was a woman he was dating in college. Masako Togawa uses that coincidence to develop Shinji as a dispirited and lonely young man who is also a bit judgmental about Honda’s promiscuity — unless he is simply envious.

The Lady Killer creates a mystery for Shinji to unravel (how and by whom was Honda framed?) but it maintains interest by giving Shinji a series of interviews with characters who are carefully developed despite their brief appearances. Those characters — a medical intern, a salaryman, a salesman, a day laborer, and a gay prostitute — open a window on different aspects of Japanese life. The investigation also reveals how people are like “toothed cogs; once one cog slips out of sync, it damages not merely those around it but also others having no direct connection with it.”

The novel is noteworthy for its glimpse of Japanese culture, including the divide between older people who hold traditional values (for example, values that compel suicide for disloyalty) and younger people who have adopted a western approach to moral decision-making. Themes of duty and loyalty are prevalent throughout the novel. The Lady Killer also explores social norms, not unique to 1960s Japanese culture, regarding the judgment that society visits upon men who use women, even if the women happily agree to be used for a night of passion, and upon women who are branded as promiscuous because they enjoy casual sex.

At the same time, Honda’s view of himself as a hunter and of women as his prey makes it difficult to feel sympathy for Honda, even though he is an innocent accused. Yet Honda is far from being the most aberrant character in a story that exposes the dark side of humanity. This example of Japanese noir strives to spotlight darkness rather than to promote empathy for its characters.

The plot depends on an elaborate scheme to frame Honda for multiple murders that will expose him to the death penalty. My initial reaction was that the killer could more easily have killed Honda; the decision to kill several innocent people struck me as an unlikely way to seek revenge. By the end of the novel, however, a plot twist allows the reader to see the story in a different way. Combined with an epilog that fills in the gaps, the mystery’s resolution is credible, surprising, and satisfying.

RECOMMENDED
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An artful, old fashioned murder mystery which merrily leads its investigators (and the reader) along a convoluted pathway scattered with clues. Even the title is a masterful play on words, open to several interpretations… more than one of which may be correct. The Lady Killer isn’t as outright bizarre as more modern Japanese crime fiction, but is still imbued with cultural idiosyncrasies and social conventions which make it a distinctly different reading experience to the average mainstream thriller.

The story is told almost exclusively from a male perspective, initially from that of the womaniser who escapes his unhappy marriage by hunting female ‘prey’ in the big city. When his lovers are found strangled, the rest of the investigation is unveiled by his lawyer’s assistant who’s been tasked with proving the client’s innocence. That might be tricky because the evidence against him is compelling…

Although it was written over half a century ago, back in 1963, this slender novel rings some seriously contemporary bells. The predatory adulterer who stalks, seduces and discards vulnerable women makes for an uncomfortable protagonist – but does being a despicable sexual slimeball automatically condemn him as a cold-blooded murderer? The Lady Killer was most definitely ahead of its time in terms of forensic police investigation, and incorporates early insights into the identification of a suspect from blood and other samples, long before DNA typing became commonplace.

The author (a woman) elegantly depicts complex characters in entangled situations, describing just enough detail to bring Tokyo’s seedy side to life without burying the reader in everyday trivia. Presented in fairly plain language, this story is deceptively straightforward – until the moment that it obviously isn’t and you realise just how cleverly you’ve been misled.

8/10
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Noir giapponese d'antan (è scritto negli anni '60: non esisteva in test del DNA!), costruito in maniera peculiare, porta a esplorare un mondo che non c'è più e i recessi dello spirito di personaggi che hanno molto da raccontare. Eccezionale la figura dell'avvocato difensore, brillante e anziano, che dalla sua poltrona tutto vede e tutto dirige.
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Ichiro Honda leads a double-life. He has a respectable job with a wife to most who know him. However, when the sun goes down, he goes on the prowl for women to have sex with. It’s a life he loves, until the day things change. One by one, the women he seduces are turning up dead and he becomes the chief suspect. His insistence of his innocence falls on deaf ears and he is convicted and sentenced to death. It is only through the diligence of the law firm handling his appeal that he may have a chance to live. 

The Lady Killer by Masako Togawa is a fascinating thriller set in Tokyo, Japan. Togawa created a fascinating character in Ichiro Honda, one with many layers. I found the book interesting because it gave me some insight into Japanese culture I might not otherwise have had. I enjoy reading novels set in countries other than the United States and this one was no exception. It has a well-developed plot with a believable cast of characters. I would recommend this novel to all crime-novel lovers and give it 3/5 stars.

*An ebook copy of this book was the only consideration received in exchange for this review.*
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The ending of this short novel certainly surprised me, even if I found the pace a little too slow. Most classic Japanese novels I've read (granted, not too many) seem to be like that. The author gives readers all the facts to figure out what's happening, but its not easy to see. Ichiro Honda is a despicable man. Just like Don Juan, he seduces women only to add him to his Hunter's Diary. If he gets them pregnant or destroys their lives, he doesn't care. He has no issues with cheating on his wife either. When someone starts killing his conquests only to frame him for the murders, it's hard not to hope he'll go down for it. A young attorney is trying to find out what happened, but this doesn't happen until later in the book. The story is quite disconnected and broken down into different parts. The twist is fantastic and I hadn't suspected anything but it came a little too late. Looking into life in Japan in the 1980's is actually fascinating, so that is a big plus. 
I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thank you, NetGalley/Pushkin Vertigo!
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Thanks to NetGalley and Steerforth Press for this edition of The Lady Killer.  The novel was originally published in 1963 but could have been written in 2018. It is told from the viewpoint of several people; the charismatic Ichiro Honda, the lawyer who takes Honda's murder case, and a woman who was involved with Honda.  Togawa's Japan of the 1960's is dark and atmospheric, with intrigue and dissolution around every corner. The ending is worthy of Agatha Christie.
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Masako Togawa is known as the PD James of Japan. Her novel The Lady Killer could have just as easily been written today with the isolation, uncertainty, and its dark twists.  It opens with the one night stand of a 19-year old woman and a wealthy musician that she meets in a bar.  After the young woman falls from a building 6 months later, we learn about her life and the family that she leaves behind.  

As we read about the man that she met and his proclivities - he keeps a journal of his sexual escapades - we also find that he is being followed by bad luck.  The women that he meets begin to die and he is taken into police custody, but it takes some time before we learn who has been killing and why.

Masako Togawa delivers an engrossing detective mystery set in Tokyo.
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This is the second Togawa mystery I have read from Pushkin Vertigo, and I sincerely hope it will not be the last. Togawa has been called the P.D. James of Japan, and rightly so. His mysteries have a depth and substance that are lacking from many mid-century mysteries.
The Lady Killer, originally published in 1963 (though I'm not sure if that is the original publication date of the Japanese original or of the first English translation), is presented in three parts. In the first part we follow the movements of the womanizing narcissist Ichiro Honda as he collects sexual conquests, which he then records in his "Huntsman's Diary." As this first part progresses, Honda becomes increasingly convinced that he is being framed for multiple murders, for which he is, in fact, arrested at the conclusion to Part 1. Part 2 follows the movements of his appeal lawyers as they try to uncover what actually happened. And Part 3 provides the truth, the whole story, an unexpected twist that the reader feels they should have seen coming but didn't (at least this reader did not!). 
A beautifully written novel of the 1960s, and a near-perfect mystery, The Lady Killer will not disappoint.
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The Lady Killer has been at the very top of my list of books I have wanted to read ever since I read The Master Key. That book was the second novel I gave my Book of the Month award to and remains one of the novels that has stuck with me most since I started Mysteries Ahoy! I found it to be an unsettling read and loved the way Togawa built her characters and themes.

The Lady Killer was the author’s second novel and has previously appeared in English translation. While its subject matter is quite different from that earlier novel, it addresses some similar themes and social issues albeit from a different perspective.

I liked the novel a lot and found its characterization and discussion of themes of social isolation and of male and female sexuality to be thoughtful and considered but I do think it is a slightly less polished work than The Master Key. For instance, there are several attempts to get inside the head of a critical character towards the end of the novel that feel somewhat clumsy and juvenile in tone.

That said there are some really interesting moments and ideas in the story that I found to make for a rewarding read and I was impressed by the author’s ability to find the ambiguity in situations and characterizations. I was happy that the novel met my expectations and I hope that Pushkin Press go on to reissue some of her other works in translation.

{I have abridged my review to remove details of the plot to avoid spoiling the novel for any Netgalley readers}
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Hello

I have included The Lady Killer in my list of best new Japan books to read that will appear on:

gaijinpot.com 

to be released in the coming week. It will include an amazon link and cover picture.

I will also have a review on my J-lit blog within the next month:

http://ianjoshyateswriting.blogspot.com

My blog gets a few hundred views on average, and gaijinpot.com gets thousands.
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Set in 1960’s Tokyo, this book follows a man who is obsessed with pursuing sexual conquests of lonely women, the lawyer defending him, and the mysterious killer. This book really set the scene, it was moody and dark and fun, and I didn’t guess whodunnit; I was surprised! It was fun to be transported to Tokyo, both in time and place. There was sex in this book, and it was kind of fun, this man loved women’s bodies, if he was a mess otherwise. Overall I was hooked, and the mystery kept me reading until the end. That being said, The women in this book were certainly described in a kind of stale way, and queer Tokyo as a backwards and repellent underground was not cool.  There must be a way to capture characters or society as homophobic and misogynistic while still humanizing these groups, to show that what is at issue is the values surrounding people, not marginalized groups themselves.
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Honestly my rating falls more toward 4 stars rather than 3. This is one of those books that is hard to rank within the star system because I really enjoyed the book (couldn't put it down) but I am still torn about the ending in so far as I don't know if I loved it or hated it. The story, the characters and the pacing all had me hooked. The author did a fair job of creating characters you couldn't help but dislike but also sometimes empathize with--which I enjoy in the mystery/thriller genre, I like to leave a bit haunted. Which is where the ending left me and why it's difficult to determine how to rate the book.

If you love a mystery/thriller with difficult characters, layered plot and enjoy feeling a bit rattled when you're done I recommend this book. It isn't cozy and I would argue that there's not a sense of true resolution (happily ever after, everything is okay now). It's a bit gritty and noir.
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Superb classic Japanese mystery from an excellent writer. Togawa does a fine job at holding the plot pieces together until the end.
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Okay it is not a new book (1960s) but a great story told with a dark tinges to all the players.  Here is an innocent man of ONE particular crime but his life of 'lies' has him in deep trouble.  I like it a lot.
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3.5 stars

The Lady Killer finds and seduces women in bars and nightclubs.  His targets are usually beautiful .. and lonely.  For the most part, these women are one night stands.  He is a master at disguise.  He is also married to a woman he can no longer bear to look at.  His forays into the nightlife of Tokyo is what he lives for.

When a woman he 'dated' jumps to her death it makes the news.  He barely remembers her name.  What the news didn't report was that she was 6 months pregnant.  When investigated, they put manner of death as a suicide.  But was it?

There are more women he has been with ...  One by one they are murdered .. strangled and left to be easily found.

Did he black out and kill them?   All the evidence points directly to him ....

This is a well written and translated crime fiction.  The Lady Killer is a stand out character. The story line is a good one and easy to follow as the reader is privy to the Killer's thoughts and actions.   There are twists and turns and an ending that was not only explosive, but a huge surprise.

THE LADY KILLER was first published in Japanese in 1963. The first English translation was published in 1986.
Masako Togawa (1931-2016) was born in Tokyo.  She died in 2016 at the age of 83. 

Many thanks to Pushkin Vertigo / Netgalley / Edelweiss for the digital copy of this crime fiction. Opinions expressed here are unbiased and entirely my own.
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