A Five-Star Review of PREFECTURE D (4 Novellas) by Hideo Yokoyama

(First published in Japan in1998 and translated into English in 2019).

“Work will be work, home will be home.”

A Japanese cop’s directive.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in international mysteries. It’s an eye-opener.

These four novellas are linked by the ace Administrative Affairs officer Shinji Futawatari whose roles range from protagonist to a cameo pair of sharp eyes. To be sure, voices are raised, tempers rage and official hands slap faces, but that’s as far as police brutality goes.

Unlike North American or even the relatively placid UK police procedurals of the late 20th-century, these four novellas are stunningly non-provocative. If bloodshed and action occur, they do so off-stage. The author (a Japanese journalist) abjures our taste for sensationalism in crime to produce fiction ramped up with obsessive ratiocination, authentic sensory detail, exquisite attention to infuriatingly obscure clues, and the hop-skip-and-jump careers of everyone, not just those who fall under official scrutiny.

This short book is a great read to help you sleep, of course, but it’s also a fascinating lens into the norms of the Japanese police force (as represented here at the close of the 20th-century). North-American readers may well be stunned by the cultural protocols of polite deference and the centrality of the bureaucratic pyramid, whose pinnacle achieved by a lifetime of guarded action and personal diplomacy, guarantees an officer’s career as well as personal fulfillment.

Yes, crimes set the stage for these portraits of ambition realized or thwarted: a series of murder/rapes; a hit-and-run death; and several modes of official malfeasance. But nailing the perpetrator is not the primary objective. These finely detailed cases inevitably hinge on the imperiled careers of the investigators whose attempts to solve the mysteries assigned are hindered by various hurdles, including male chauvinism and frantic anxiety about falling behind age mates in achieved rank.