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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Shadow Family

Miyabe Miyuki

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To purchase Shadow Family

Title: Shadow Family
Author: Miyabe Miyuki
Genre: Novel
Written: 2001 (Eng. 2004)
Length: 188 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Shadow Family - US
Shadow Family - UK
Shadow Family - Canada
  • Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
  • Japanese title: R.P.G.

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Our Assessment:

B : has a nice twist, but the presentation is somewhat awkward

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 6/2/2005 Marilyn Stasio
The Washington Post . 27/2/2005 Richard Lipez

  From the Reviews:
  • "Despite a slow start bogged down by official procedures, the theatrically constructed plot is soon swirling with the naked emotions of unattached, deeply unhappy people eager to express their yearnings for an idealized family life no longer possible in the fractured social structure of modern-day Japan." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(A) smartly observant police procedural (.....) (P)atience pays off, for Shadow Family blossoms into both a suspenseful murder mystery and an astute running commentary on the parallel cyberworld inside which millions of people now spend so much of their time." - Richard Lipez, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Shadow Family begins with two murders: those of a young woman, Naoko Imai, and a businessman, Ryosuke Tokoroda. They occur in different places, and so the original investigating officers are different, but the evidence suggests one murderer was responsible for both deaths.
       Shadow Family is a police procedural, and quite a bit focusses on police process -- not just how the murderer is found, but on police and personal politics. The investigation brings together separate police squads, and appearances (and face) must be maintained: senior officers deferred to, etc. It doesn't make for too many complications, but does make for a somewhat different atmosphere than one finds in American or European police procedurals, where power plays and personalities are much more up front. With officers involved who have been (mildly) disgraced, or spent most of their careers recently doing paperwork, this investigation also brings together a somewhat motley team.
       There does not seem to be any connexion between the two victims, and one of the concerns is that a serial killer might be at work here, picking random victims. As the police dig deeper, however, they do find that the victim's paths at least crossed -- and they find a prime suspect who knew both of them.
       The police also find that: "Ryosuke Tokoroda had created an alternate 'family' on the Internet." While in chat rooms and on message boards he had picked up a group of people who pretended to be his family -- a 'Mom' and 'Kazumi' mirroring his actual wife and daughter, as well as 'Minoru', who pretends to be the son. Tokoroda's real family life was less than idyllic: he had affairs (which his wife put up with), and he wasn't on very good terms with his daughter any more. The online shadow family, however, seemed to offer him exactly what he wanted, and even if, for example, the fake Kazumi did poorly in school (unlike his actual daughter, who was an excellent student) he was able to be supportive and comforting in a way he apparently couldn't bring himself to be in his real home.
       The Japanese title of Shadow Family was R.P.G., as in 'role-playing game', which is essentially what Tokoroda and his shadow-family were involved in. It wasn't very elaborate, but they seemed to take it fairly seriously, even getting together to actually meet. From the e-mail trail left behind the police were able to reconstruct most of this family life.
       Eventually, the police bring in the shadow family -- while Kazumi and her mother are at the police station. They even ask Kazumi to listen in, from behind a one-way mirror, on their conversations with the shadow family members, and much of the book focusses on the interrogations, as they reconstruct what happened between these people.
       It turns into a fairly interesting cat-and-mouse game, and there is a nice twist at the end. But the problem with Shadow Family is one of perspective: the reader follows the story through the eyes of the police, but the police are following a specific plan, and that is withheld from the reader (even as it is unfolding) until the very end. It's necessary -- there wouldn't be much tension or suspense if readers knew exactly what the police were doing -- but it also leaves the reader feeling cheated. So much of the inner workings of the police are revealed, but the main thing isn't .....
       Slightly disappointing, also, is that even if what they're up to isn't made fully clear until the very end, who they've set their sights on is -- and it's hard to believe the target wouldn't have seen it coming (and acted slightly less obviously).
       Shadow Family is a decent police procedural. The characters -- Tokoroda and his families, several of the police officials -- are quite interesting, and Miyabe does probe into these various damaged psyches (almost everyone here is damaged on some level), adding some welcome depth. The role-playing game idea is nicely integrated into the book, too. The police procedures seem a bit simplistic, but the foreign (if not truly exotic) atmosphere makes up for that a bit, an interesting glimpse of a different type of police department than what one is used to in American crime fiction.

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Reviews: Other books by Miyabe Miyuki under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Miyabe Miyuki (宮部みゆき) was born in 1960. She has written dozens of novels, and won several literary prizes.

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