VINE VOICEon 23 September 2009
"Shadow Family" was first published in Japan as "RPG" in 2001, and is the second of Miyuki Miyabe's novels to be translated into English.
Ryosuke Tokoroda's body was found by police in late April, following reports of a disturbance in a building site. Initially, the investigation into his murder was being handled by FCID's Third Squad - a team that included Fusao Nakamoto, the city's longest serving desk chief. Nakamoto's position is a senior one - one that largely involves shuffling papers and writing reports rather than actively investigating cases. He had, however, confided to a colleague - Etsuro Takegami, another long-serving desk sergeant - that he was keen to return to a more active role. Takegami was initially working on a separate case - the murder of Naoko Mai, a college student found strangled in a karaoke club. When the two cases are linked by certain strands of evidence, however, the two friends realise they are going to be working a little more closely. There are suspicions the Tokoroda and Mai were killed by the same person, and it soon becomes apparent the pair had known each other for several years. As it turns out, the pair had been lovers for a time - Tokoroda, despite being married with a teenage daughter, wasn't an entirely devoted husband.
Although the relationship between the pair had foundered, they had continued to spend some time together. The chief suspect for their murders came from Naoko's ongoing love life - "Miss A", the suspect in question, had been dropped by her boyfriend after he met Naoko. However, despite having plenty of motive and no alibi, there was no actual evidence tying her to either murder - and Nakamoto was one of several who wanted to look for other suspects in Tokoroda's background. As it happens, it's his rather unorthodox strategy the investigation is now following - although, with Nakamoto suffering from ill- health, it's Takegami who takes the lead. Tokoroda had been spending quite a bit of time on the internet, where he'd created a virtual family. Naturally, he'd played the father, but this 'shadow family' had also featured a mother, a son and a daughter - all of them real people, but each playing a role.
Meanwhile, Tokoroda's 'real-life' wife and daughter, Kazue, are due into the station - while the mother will be collecting some of her husband's personal effects, the team have different plans for the daughter. Kazue's testimony has, to date, being rather fluid : she claimed to have been harassed by prank phone calls and that she'd been followed on her way home from school. The family were immediately been put under very close police protection...and, when the calls and stalkers disappeared, Kazue dropped the claims. However, she also claimed to have seen her father in the company of some people she didn't know - quite possibly her father's 'shadow family'...
Where Takegami plays one key role in the book, the other is played by one of his former partners - Chikako Ishizu. They had worked together in the arson department, although - before this case - they hadn't seen each other in fifteen years. Chikako's career hasn't gone quite as well as Takegami's - she had disobeyed an order on an arson case four years previously and subsequently demoted. Takegami trusts her completely - though he expects that she'll be made the scapegoat should anything go wrong.
A very enjoyable and easy read - it's one of those books that gradually gives you bits and pieces, allowing you to build your own theories and puzzle as to who's really doing what. Certainly recommended, I'll be keeping as eye out for more of Miyabe's books.