Penance, by Kanae Minato

Eight stars

Kanae Minato is back with another bone-chilling psychological thriller that will keep the reader guessing as they process the various angles of a similar event. When four young girls in a town along the Japanese countryside accept a new girl into their group the dynamic changes drastically. Emily brings a Tokyo flavour to their playing and the entire school class turns to her for guidance. While the girls are playing one day, a stranger approaches them and asks Emily to help him. Not sensing any danger, no one raises a red flag and it is only hours later, when Emily’s body is found in the boys’ change room, that these four girls begin to wonder what might have happened. Thus begins the panic, as no one can quite remember how to describe this man. Emily’s distraught mother vows vengeance if the girls do not come forward with information to find Emily’s killer, a pall that seems to hover over these four. As the story unfolds, all four girls are now women, telling their perspective of events and some of the fallout in their own lives since the killing. While each has a similar theme, there are strong differences, as well as the way in which this ‘curse’ works its way into their adult lives. Most haunting of all is that, at the time of the murder, Japan had a fifteen year statute of limitations on the crime, which is now only days away. Chilling in its delivery, Minato offers the reader a glimpse into how the innocence of youth can be negated with one wrong choice. Recommended for those who love something a little eerie and can handle a translated piece.

I discovered Kanae Minato and her debut novel this past summer, which had me highly curious. I could not put my finger on it at the time, but her multi-perspective narrative and quaint way of presenting the Japanese customs left me wanting to read more, yet not fully comfortable. In this piece, Minato returns with another story that uses four protagonists as they recount their own views on the murder of young Emily. Minato weaves together both a strong backstory and interesting character developments of all four girls/women, including the acts that might seemingly be part of the curse for not coming forward sooner. The reader is forced to parse fact from fiction while living through these events to get to the final truth. In a piece that flows so well and yet has moments of being quite dense, Minato lures the reader in and will not let go until everything is resolved, at least to her own liking. The writing style is unique and its translation into English has me wondering if it is the linguistic change that gives it the sing-song innocence or whether this is the traditional style of Japanese fiction work. I suppose I will have to investigate more, hoping other Japanese authors have themes similar to those found here.

Kudos, Madam Minato, for another great novel that had me unsure where things were going. I like this sort of blind ride, as it is a dose of something completely different.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: