Since I read and really enjoyed Yokoyama’s novel Six Four, I really looked forward to this one. I can’t say this book is as good as Six Four, but it is certainly worth picking up. As I began reading, I was confused because the book is described as an “investigative thriller”. This is certainly an inaccurate label because it is a slow-paced, complex and thoughtful examination of the inner workings of a newspaper organization as it struggles to cover a major news story.
Part of the novel is set in 2003 as the protagonist, Kazumasa Yuuki, is climbing the Tsuitate rock face of Mount Tanigawa. As he does so, he thinks back to a week seventeen years earlier when the crash of a plane interrupted his planned first attempt to scale it. In 1985, Yuuki is a seasoned reporter for a regional newspaper when a Japan Airlines jet crashes into a mountain, killing 520. Yuuki, a career reporter, is made JAL desk chief “in charge of seeing this story through to the end.” As he works to have staff write “detailed, informative articles,” he finds himself caught in the middle of power struggles between different factions of the organization.
Though not a thriller, there is suspense. Yuuki’s experience is as a reporter who has shown no interest in a managerial position, so will he be able to fulfill the requirements of this new role when faced with perhaps the biggest story the newspaper would ever cover? His job is complicated by the fact that Yuuki feels “with his lack of self-control, he should never be put in a position where he could exercise control over others.” Will he be able to successfully navigate his way around the “internal machinations at the paper” where it seems that all his superiors have conflicting hidden agendas? As a 57-year-old, will he be able to scale a 330-metre vertical cliff on a mountain where 779 climbers had lost their lives? In addition, will Yuuki be able to repair his strained relationship with his son?
The book certainly shows how news stories are covered. Since the author was himself an investigative reporter with a regional Japanese newspaper for a dozen years, he certainly knows the rivalries that can develop among various departments who each have their own goals. Yokoyama actually covered the JAL Flight 123 tragedy so the details of that actual event are realistic. Sometimes it is difficult to remember the functions of the many characters, but titles and roles are usually mentioned when a character appears. This repetition is somewhat tedious but necessary, especially for a non-Japanese reader who may have difficulty with the Japanese names. There is a detailed character glossary at the end of the book, but constant reference to it would be aggravating.
Yuuki is a fully developed character. As he faces setbacks and makes decisions, some wrong and some right, his personality emerges. Through flashbacks, we learn that he feels great guilt for some actions in his past and that he has his “own dark storage shed of memories.” He does know himself to some degree: “Yuuki had suspected for a while that he was only able to love people who loved him. And even when he was sure he had their love, he couldn’t forgive them if they were ever cool or indifferent towards him. He expected absolute, unconditional love, and when he realized how elusive that was, he would fall into utter despair. So, instead, he kept his distance from people. He was wary of anyone who showed him kindness and never let anyone see his private side. He was afraid of being hurt.” In that week in 1985 and in the intervening seventeen years, Yuuki has learned more about himself and life: “As long as you kept running from birth until death, falling down, getting hurt, no matter how many times you suffered defeat, you got up and started running again. Personal happiness came from all the things and people you came across, ran into by chance along the way. . . . Climbing with all your might, concentrating completely on moving up, never being distracted by the meaningless stuff around you. He’d begun to think it was a fine way to lead a life.” Like Yoshinobu Mikami in Six Four, Yuuki has a career crisis and must tread carefully to avoid some pitfalls at work. He also has family difficulties which he needs to address.
This is a dense novel, but it has rewards for readers who persevere.
Note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.