Evil and the Mask is one of those books that captivate the reader not so much with their plot and action but with the interactions between its heroes in a society that seems to be on the brink of destruction.
Most of the people in the west expect murder and mayhem and high-octane adventures when they read crime fiction. There’s a little bit of the above in this story, but not enough to thrill someone. Instead the author offers a story that talks about the cruelty of a father, the redemption of a son and a love affair that’s bound to go terribly wrong.
The said father, a ruthless businessman, tells his young son, Fumihiro that he’ll become a cancer, a personification of evil under his guidance, and the child feels that there’s darkness inside of him already. He hates his father and he’s determined to kill him one day and thus fulfill his prophecy. Until then though he must do his best to resist his authority and enjoy life a little. Enter Kaori, a young girl who’s adopted into the family, with whom Fumihiro grows up and inevitably falls in love with. He knows that his father will do everything to stop him from being happy, and later rather than sooner decides to take matters into his own hands. Will this pursue of happiness lead him to his doom or will it change his life once and for all for the better?
“Happiness is a fortress,” we read somewhere, and one can rest assured that apart perhaps from the worst of people in these pages, not many can enter it. Instead they keep wandering in the streets of the night, like people with fake faces and mistaken identities; people who have nothing to lose because their lives never really belonged to them.
Fuminori Nakamura, whose excellent previous novel The Thief I've read in one sitting, has his characters interact in peculiar ways. While they’re desperately trying to find their way in an ever changing world, they are held back by the ghosts of the past; while they need love, they thrive in pain; and while they fight hard to be good, they end up exactly the opposite.
As we follow these people we get to learn a lot of things, not only about modern Japan, but also about the loneliness that has become the plague of our times, and the cynicism that seems to drive a lot of people’s actions.
Perhaps this is one of those few special occasions when the title of a book describes perfectly its content. The evil is personified in two people in here; the mask in another two. The characters come alive because the author seemingly keeps his distance from them, and his story is captivating for the simple reason that most of the time things in life don’t turn out as we want them to.
Nakamura chose to narrate his story by moving back and forth in time, thus providing miniscule clues, from chapter to chapter, about how things are going to play out. And yet, because he’s a Japanese author and doesn’t have to abide by the rule of the happy ending, he manages to surprise the reader. You don’t have to be a fan of the genre to enjoy this tale; but even if you are, once you’re not looking for blockbuster fiction you’re bound to love it, as its not larger than life heroes and its simplicity win the day. As a conclusion I’d say that the crime is not so important here, since it only serves as the means that justify the end.
First published in Crime Factory magazine