I finally took some time off this weekend to read. I recently got a short translated mystery novel called The Cat in the Coffin, which I finished in about an hour. It’s a quick read, and it was also one of the best mystery novel build-ups I’ve ever read.
The author is Mariko Koike, an award-winning, well-respected female mystery writer in Japan. The book is a flashback, a story told in the future by a lady reminiscing about an experience she had when she was in her early twenties. She was a live-in tutor for a little 9-year old girl who belonged to a widower, a good-looking, charismatic Great Gatsby-like artist named Goro. For the first half of the book, it’s a cute story about the little girl with her cat and the tutor with her secret crush on the dad. And then Koike starts dropping hints at the totally unpredictable crazy ending to come.
Like most human beings, I have a dark and evil side. I am a person who could witness something truly terrible and go on living as if nothing had happened. I could put the desire for atonement out of my mind, if that seemed to be in my own best interest. And I was capable of rationalizing the most horrific reality, if that was what I needed to do in order to go on living.
I thought the way Koike set up the story was really interesting. Some mystery novels blatantly drop clues early on to get the blood rushing, but she doesn’t do this until the end. Instead, her hints are placed gently within the smooth narrative and then suddenly, right before the ball drops, you realize that this was coming all along. I was reading it late at night and saying to myself, oh holy shit wow. The quote above, for example, doesn’t show up until the very end.
The English translation was just published &mdash it’s a great book for the beach or a lazy afternoon on the couch.
The Cat in the Coffin by Mariko Koike