Point Zero; a Japanese crime classic

Published in English for the first time 65 years after its initial publication, Japanese crime thriller Point Zero really fascinated me. Tense and compelling, it slowly but surely lured me in. Initially it took me a wee bit to get into, but once I was in, I was completely invested in this intriguing story.

What I found truly fascinating about this novel is the depiction of Japanese culture in the 1950s. Point Zero was written by Seicho Matsumoto (1909-1992), known as the master of Japanese mystery writing. It is a compelling social critique as it explores Japanese traditions around marriage (which I found truly fascinating), and the taboo of Japanese prostitution catering for GIs during the American post-war occupation. The almost casual attitude to suicide, which is often referenced throughout the narrative, I also found really interesting.

Apparently Seicho Matsumoto was revolutionary when writing Point Zero as the novel’s protagonist is a woman. This was apparently quite a radical move in Japanese literature, especially in the crime genre.

Set in 1958, Point Zero follows the story of 26 year-old newlywed Teiko who marries a successful advertising man, Kenichi Uhara, who is 10 years older than her. Teiko and Kenichi used a marriage broker to arrange their introduction and only met a handful of times before they wed. So Teiko, not knowing anything of her new husband’s past, is at a complete loss when he vanishes shortly after their four-day honeymoon. Although many people around her, including her husband’s older brother assure Teiko not to worry, her woman’s intuition tells her different. So in the hope of finding her husband, she travels to the northern, snow covered city of Kanazawa where he was last seen.

Seicho Matsumoto

The mystery deepens as Teiko learns that her husband used to be a police officer about eight years previously, at the time of the American occupation. As Kenichi was working in the public morals division, it is clear that his police duties involved dealing with the so called “pan-pan girls,” young Japanese women who worked as prostitutes to cater for the American GIs. Then when Sotaro, her brother-in-law arrives in Kanazawa to support her, Teiko feels he is acting suspiciously. And then he is murdered.

As the death toll increases and the danger intensifies, it becomes apparent to Teiko that some people will kill, and kill again and again to hide the past.

Louise Heal Kawai

Point Zero was initially published in Japan in 1959, yet it is only now that it has been translated into English. Louise Heal Kawai is an experienced translator for Japanese literature, already known for translating other Japanese mysteries, including A Quiet Place, another Seicho Matsumoto’s novel released in the UK by Bitter Lemon Press.

Point Zero was released on 15 February 2024. Thank you to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me to the blog tour of this compelling thriller. Thank you also to Bitter Lemon Press for my advance copy.

To follow the blog tour, please see below.

1 Comment

  1. February 19, 2024 / 3:58 pm

    Thanks for the blog tour support x

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