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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Miyabe Miyuki

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To purchase Crossfire

Title: Crossfire
Author: Miyabe Miyuki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 404 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Crossfire - US
Crossfire - UK
Crossfire - Canada
  • Japanese title: クロスファイア
  • Translated by Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi and Anna Husson Isozaki

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Our Assessment:

B : curious approach, offering occasionally interesting insight

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Miyabe Miyuki's Crossfire is an odd sort of police procedural. She chooses a premise that is not so much outlandish as simply ridiculous: one of her central characters is endowed with pyrokinesis -- "The ability to start fires using willpower." It's a cartoon premise -- and when there are scenes where the power is used there is a distinct comic book feel to it, with just the 'Zap !' and 'Pow !' and crudely drawn line-figures missing. Yet it's also a very earnest book, with most of it fairly down-to-earth. Told basically along two tracks -- the story of the human flame-thrower, Junko Aoki, on the one hand, and the police officer from the arson squad that looks into the incendiary events she's responsible for, Sergeant Chikako Ishizu, on the other -- a lot of it merely describes the fairly mundane.
       Using something like pyrokinesis in a novel is risky because it is, of course, fairly hard to believe -- especially when the talent is so precisely controlled, as it is here. Fiction allows for anything, but in placing it in an otherwise realistic setting ... well, Stephen King generally sets the stage considerably better. Miyabe offers a bit of explanation, and Junko isn't the only one with this or similar super-natural powers in the book (though her ability is particularly refined), but on the whole this remains the book's biggest weakness: it just doesn't come across as plausible. In any case, Miyabe doesn't really try very hard to explain it (that it sort of runs in the family is about as good as the explanation gets), and instead simply takes it from there.
       It's also problematic that Junko sees herself in the comic-book mode:

I am a loaded gun. My mission is to hunt down monsters who live only to consume and destroy innocent lives.
       But for someone with that mission she's been (and remains, for a while) fairly selective. The book begins with her setting off on what amounts to a rampage, but before that she only seems to have really unloaded fairly selectively.
       Where it gets interesting is in the not-so-subtleties of the dark side of Japan portrayed here. Teens -- not held accountable until they come of age -- do very, very bad things like push girls out of cars on the open road so they can run them down. Clashes of values and standards abound; it's not so much (or only) generational as a clash between the traditional and modernity -- leading to occasionally absurd-seeming situations, such as the police detective who prefers to quit his job and flee with his daughter to protect her from an abusive husband rather than take the matter to the police.
       The police are specifically presented as a force there to clear up crimes, rather than prevent them. They are for after the fact -- and, of course, by then it is essentially too late. Their limited powers -- and the too-lenient sentences given to criminals (as well as the free pass kids have until they turn eighteen) -- are emphasised throughout. Which leads to Miyabe's other elaboration on her vengeance theme: a shadowy organisation called the Guardians, vigilantes who clean up the messes the police can't or won't -- generally by seeing to it that the bad guys have convenient 'accidents' and the like. They set their sights on the very powerful Junko -- surely an ideal recruit for their organisation --, and it comes down to something of a race as to who can get to her first.
       The police investigation into the mysterious fire-deaths goes nowhere fast; indeed, most of the time Chikako is working on her own initiative. Not surprisingly, it's pretty clear that there are 'Guardians' among the police who want to hush-up certain aspects of these crimes.
       Miyabe does offer a few interesting twists, though some of the connexions among the characters seem just too convenient. A young girl who displays the same power as Junko -- albeit uncontrolled, so far -- becomes a vulnerable pawn in the bigger game, and the resolution also offers a few satisfying surprises. The moral dilemmas -- centralmost of which is whether or not to accept the fact that: "Non-combatants sometimes get caught up in the crossfire" -- are a bit roughly handled, but the root-problem, of finding justice in a rule-bound society such as Japan, is at least interestingly (if occasionally quite gorily) presented.
       Miyabe's picture of Japan is limited, but does offer some suggestive glimpses. Detective Chikako -- a woman in her late forties, her son (and husband) conveniently basically out of the picture -- is an interesting choice as a lead detective, and Miyabe effectively shows how she is largely marginalised within the system (but then she doesn't have much good to say about the system anywhere in the novel). Unusually (for Japan), individual initiative is what consistently wins the day here. Meanwhile, family life is often pretty ugly here, rife with divorce and domestic violence -- and what little intimacy there is seems more likely to lead to betrayal than anything else.
       Crossfire is a fairly long and occasionally plodding novel, but it also moves quite unpredictably and has a few decent scenes (and, as is to be expected, some pyrotechnic fun). It's of most interest for the picture of contemporary Japanese society it offers, but there's also a decent (if unreasonable) mystery-thriller here.

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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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