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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Devil's Whisper

Miyabe Miyuki

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To purchase The Devil's Whisper

Title: The Devil's Whisper
Author: Miyabe Miyuki
Genre: Novel
Written: 1989 (Eng. 2007)
Length: 253 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Devil's Whisper - US
The Devil's Whisper - UK
The Devil's Whisper - Canada
  • Japanese title: 魔術はささやく
  • Translated by Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi

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Our Assessment:

B : the writing is fairly simplistic, the plot a bit forced, but some decent ideas and twists

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 23/3/2008 Mark Schreiber

  From the Reviews:
  • "The story's characters, both past and present, are intertwined by fate as Miyabe, the master hand behind this deus ex machina, manipulates them, crafting a masterful tale of mystery and detection with some chills and thrills mixed in for good measure. (...) The prose, particularly the dialogue, zips right along, making it a provocative page-turner" - Mark Schreiber, The Japan Times

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:

       The central character in The Devil's Whisper, an early novel by Miyabe Miyuki, is the teenager Mamoru. He lives with the shame of his father having run out on the family when the boy was very young -- and having run out on his obligations to society, too, embezzling an enormous sum, a black mark that has been a considerable burden on Mamoru, since anyone who knows about it won't let him forget it: oh, yes, in this society the sons inherit the guilt of the fathers (and the wives of their husbands, etc. etc.: if someone in your family does something bad it reflects on all of you). Mamoru's mother recently passed away, which is why he now lives with his aunt and uncle in Tokyo.
       Things have been better in Tokyo -- though his family shame is dredged up soon enough -- but the novel begins with Mamoru's uncle, a taxi driver, arrested for running down a girl, Yoko. It happened late at night, and the uncle claims he had a green light and that she just ran into the street, but without any witnesses the police don't give him the benefit of the doubt.
       A prologue had already described two suicides by young women, and obviously there's a connection; another young woman named Kazuko is hit hard by Yoko's death, remembering what Yoko had said the last time they'd met: "Can it all be a coincidence ? Things don't just happen like this !" But there's little suspicious about the deaths.
       The girls all knew one another, but now Kazuko is the only one left alive -- and she worries that she too is in danger. Meanwhile, Mamoru gets a phone call from someone who tells him that Yoko had it coming. This mysterious caller has an interest in telling Mamoru the whole story, but he takes his sweet time about it; meanwhile, Mamoru starts nosing around on his own, and makes a few discoveries, including the connection between the girls, and what they were up to that might make someone out to get them.
       Some unusual occurrences at the department store where Mamoru works (in the books-section) -- where they've recently installed huge video displays with material from the dubious Ad Academy -- lead Mamoru and a co-worker to make a discovery that also helps explain how the women were driven to suicide. As one character puts it:

There was a Columbo episode called 'Double Exposure,' and that was the trick behind the murder.
       Miyabe's plot is a bit more complicated, and unfortunately that's one reason much of it feels quite forced, as if she had a bunch of ideas and then wrote her story around them. There's the matter of the bad guy, for one, whose success at what he does is just a bit too good to be true (and whose own condition is way too convenient, too, allowing certain parts of the plot to move forward). But Miyabe does have a few good twists up her sleeve, including a rather creative use of Mamoru's missing father. And, with Kazuko on the run and in obvious danger, -- as well as smaller questions, such as whether or not Mamoru's uncle will go to jail for killing the girl -- there is a decent amount of suspense.
       Miyabe piles it on a bit too high at the end, with Mamoru given an opportunity to exact some vengeance and tested more than he really needs to be. And then Miyabe opts for a feel-good and just conclusion to one part of the story, which feels way too simple and pat.
       The teenage protagonist -- with lock-picking skills acquired from the one father-figure in his life, which of course prove to be convenient -- makes for a Hardy Boys-feel to this mystery, as does the way Miyabe addresses school bullying, family shame and responsibility (a big, big deal here (as, admittedly, it still is in Japan)), and societal responsibilities in general. (The suicidal girls take advantage of people in a particularly modern way, their marks in a way willing victims, but nevertheless fooled into something; what the girls do is certainly not honorable.) It's a lot that Miyabe is working with, and it doesn't all work that well, but it makes for a reasonably entertaining thriller, with enough interesting variety (and providing enough insight into Japanese society and mores).

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 June 2010

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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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