Soul Cage by Tetsuya Honda is the second book in the Lieutenant Himekawa series, where a severed hand, a missing body, and a victim who was living under a false identity all add up to the most complex and challenging case yet for the homicide detective.
Mishima was standing on the scaffolding three windows down. He looked up at a length of scaffolding above his head, stretched out his arm, and applied his wrench to a joint clamp.
He stayed in that position for a while, quite motionless.
Eventually, Mishima's right foot began to edge silently forward. One centimeter. Two centimeters. Now, just a millimeter or two.
I knew that if I kept watching, chances were I'd yell out before he'd done what he had to do. Which was the last thing I should do—for his sake, more than anyone's.
The moment the heel of his right foot finally slid into the air, I felt a shiver of horror go through me, and I clasped my hands to my mouth.
His back slowly tilted forward. His hard hat came off his head and tumbled straight down. As his body angled forward, he finally lost his footing completely and plunged from the ninth floor.
It was only a matter of seconds. It felt long and short at the same time.
Soul Cage opens with an unsettling suicide—and that's one of the least disturbing things that plays out in the latest Reiko Himekawa mystery.
The death at the construction site happened over a decade ago, but it ties directly into the current case: a severed hand is found in the back of a van, and the amount of blood at the scene of the crime implies that whoever it belonged to must now be dead. But where is the rest of the body?
Reiko and the rest of her special task unit learn that the victim was Kenichi Takaoka, a middle-aged construction worker who owned his own company. His sole employee/pseudo son, Kosuke Mishima, is able to identify the hand based on its distinctive scars.
What motive could there be to kill a man like Takaoka, who was a hard worker, an honest businessman, single, and lived modestly? He was a devoted father figure to Kosuke, who was just as affectionate to him.
Was it over his insurance policies?
“Here,” he said, handing me a couple of envelopes on the day I moved out. “Use this for a deposit. Today's a special day, after all.”
One of the envelopes was one of those fancy ones used for gift giving. The other had the logo of a big foreign insurance company on it.
“Thanks. What's this one for?”
“That? It's an insurance policy. If something happens to me, you're the beneficiary. It's not a whole lot of money, but provided you do the paperwork, you'll get something.”
I felt hold and cold shivers going up my spine.
“I don't know what to say, boss…”
I loved the fact that he treated me as family. At the same time, the idea of something happening to him frightened and upset me.
“I don't deserve this.”
The old man reached out, grabbed hold of the hand in which I was clutching the two envelopes, and looked deep into my eyes.
“There are two policies in the envelope; one's for you, and the other's for someone else. It's a bit complicated. Basically, I haven't told the other person about the policy; that means they might not hear the news about my death. I want you to make sure that doesn't happen. If anything happens to me, open up the second policy and get in touch with the beneficiary so they can claim the insurance money. Okay? You promise to do what I'm asking?”
The deeper Reiko and the team dig, the more confusing and tangled the web becomes. Takaoka took Kosuke under his wing twelve years ago following the death of Kosuke's father—a death that had been ruled a construction accident but was, in fact, a forced suicide to pay off the man's debts.
It wasn't the only forced suicide, either. It quickly becomes apparent that the construction companies involved are all fronts for a yakuza family. Someone has been playing a very long and violent game of intimidation and insurance fraud.
When the detectives take a photo of the victim to an old childhood friend who insists that the man in the picture couldn't possibly be Kenichi Takaoka, the case becomes even murkier. Who was the man calling himself Takaoka? Was he truly an innocent victim, or was he guilty of his own terrible crimes?
Soul Cage is a multi-layered story told from a variety of perspectives. We see the events unfold through the eyes of Takaoka, Kosuke, Reiko, her rival Kusaka, and teammates Kikuta and Hayama. The story swings back and forth through time, from Kosuke's childhood and the death of his father, through the years Takaoka spends fathering the orphan, up through the current day investigation.
Details that later prove to be vital clues are casually peppered in, rewarding the attentive reader with satisfying “Aha!” moments as the puzzle pieces click into place. Each investigator gets moments to shine. Though we initially side with Reiko as our primary heroine, we also get glimpses into the inner workings of Kusaka, her dour and competitive rival, which makes him human and relatable too.
There are so many narrative threads at play here: family tragedies, romantic entanglements, hardboiled crime drama, and police procedural. It makes for a rich feast of a mystery, with plenty of emotional gut-punches and horrifying scenes. One moment you'll be tearing up, heartbroken over a character's pain, and the next you'll be cringing at the bloody violence.
One of Honda's greatest strengths is his characters. No one is flat and one-dimensional. No one is perfect. Heroine Reiko is smart and empathetic and driven, but she can also be petty and quick to judge. Kusaka, at first blush, is dismissive and rude, but he's also a thorough cop determined to do things right.
By far the most complex characters in Soul Cage are Takaoka—whose enigmatic background and murky motivations are slowly unwrapped, page by page, in a supremely interesting way—and Kosuke, the young orphan who hated his birth father and found a much better mentor in Takaoka, who had nothing and worked hard to escape that poverty, and who was bullied as a child and became determined to stand up to bullies as an adult.
Soul Cage is a step above the usual police procedural mystery thanks to its nonlinear story and powerful characters. It's much closer to Luther than Law & Order, both in terms of quality and content. For those who enjoy their detective stories with a bit more meat, blood, and heart, Honda is a perfect fit.
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Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.