This is one of those great novels that blends up truth and imagination so well that the lines between fact and fiction are so blurred you don’t even know where to begin trying to unravel it. It also doubles the intrigue especially the way Jesse Ball structures the story to unfurl piece by piece, layer by layer in such a way you are taken by surprise after surprise.
The story concerns the “Narito Disappearances”. A crime that baffled local authorities in Osaka where eight people had gone missing seemingly without a trace until one day a signed confession is handed in to police. The man who has made the confession is quickly arrested and doesn’t say another word. But this is not a whodunit because as the story goes on we see there is a much bigger and more important question that who.
“I am looking for this mystery. Not the mystery of what happened but the mystery of how”
One one level this is an ingenious crime novel. By telling the story in a different order the facts and “truth” aren’t revealed to us until we get to the beginning of the story. Rather than telling the story in chronological order we follow the path Jesse Ball’s investigation follows like a trail of breadcrumbs. Ball recounts his investigation through interview transcripts and internal notes as well as letters and other documents he is given along the way. Each interview shines a little more light onto the story and leads Jesse to another piece of the puzzle.
I was so engrossed in this book it wasn’t until finishing it that I truly digested what I had read. In many ways this is a modern parable about the moral fallacies we place on our systems of justice but the skill and subtlety in which Jesse Ball tells the story gives it not just power but also emotional resonance. And by doing so Jesse Ball gets to the absolute core of what a crime story is and what it should mean when we read one.