Monday, May 17, 2021

REVIEW: Masquerade and the Nameless Women (book) by Eiji Mikage, translated by Daniel Morales

Masquerade and the Nameless Women is a contemporary Japanese mystery. I bought my copy brand new.


The publisher's description mentions a detail that, for the bulk of the book, I considered a spoiler. Someone who pays a little closer attention to names than I do may feel differently, but I've avoided giving that information in my review because I feel like it could affect a person's reading experience.

Masquerade is a serial killer who targets beautiful women. Before killing them, he cuts off one body part, whatever their most beautiful feature happens to be, and then he cuts off their face.

This latest killing is a puzzle, however. It deviates from Masquerade's signature in several ways, and the victim, Reina Myoko, is a mystery all on her own. There are no pictures of her - not even her father has any. She lived in a run-down place and didn't have a driver's license, and yet she owned an expensive car. She had a fiance as well as a lover. Her father and fiance were unaware of the lover, who insists that she truly loved him and had planned to call things off with her fiance. And Reina seemed to have behaved differently with all three men.

Who was Reina Myoko, and what really happened to her? That's what Yuri Uguisu, one of the cops assigned to this case, is determined to find out. 

I had high hopes for this. Theoretically, light novel one-shots don't have the luxury of wallowing in bloat and weird pacing problems. Plus, I like twisty mysteries.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be awful. It was almost entirely composed of theorizing about the murder. This theorizing wasn't necessarily connected to actual evidence - sometimes Seiren Higano, the supposed genius psychologist who occasionally consulted for the police, just threw stuff out there to see how the characters would react. Fortunately for him, the police were dumb enough to go along with it and applaud him like he'd done something amazing. Even the suspects were willing to play along, muddying the water by adding more details and twists.

There was no firm ground to stand on because, by the time Higano was done talking, black became white and up became down. Was the victim really Reina? Had a murder actually occurred? Sure, there was a horrifically mutilated body that dental records confirmed was Reina, but Higano could talk anything into being inconclusive. As he was fond of saying, the truth had no value. I suspect Mikage meant this to be thrilling, but instead I found it annoying.

Yuri was an absolutely worthless cop. I get it, she was supposed to be an inexperienced rookie, but there were things she allowed herself to be convinced of, even just temporarily, that were ridiculous and physically impossible.

The author had no clue how to write a convincing woman - Mikage wrote Yuri as someone who was so insecure about her looks that she squirmed over interacting with a "perfect ten" of a woman just pages after worrying that no one would ever take her seriously as a cop. She also got annoyed because her older male partner found that "perfect ten" woman attractive but had never noticed her the same way. It made no sense. Generally, women who want to be taken seriously as professionals would prefer that their male colleagues not leer at them or flirt with them. Plus, the whole "perfect ten" thing was more of a gross guy phrasing than something I could believe one woman thinking about another. Women get jealous of other women, yes, but I've never heard women rate other women's looks that way.

This was clearly aiming to be deliciously twisty, and instead it fell flat. Almost none of the twists and revelations were believable, and one of the most obvious revelations was written like it was a cleverly disguised detail. The book ended at a terrible spot, as well, with the confrontation I'd expected left to some unwritten future.

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