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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Dog in Water

Kiuchi Kazuhiro

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To purchase A Dog in Water

Title: A Dog in Water
Author: Kiuchi Kazuhiro
Genre: Novel
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 222 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: A Dog in Water - US
A Dog in Water - UK
A Dog in Water - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: 水の中の犬
  • Translated by Maya Rosewood

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Our Assessment:

A- : dark, and as hardboiled as it gets -- and very good

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       A Dog in Water is a three-act novel featuring an unnamed private detective who used to be a cop. Kiuchi expertly structures the novel: the first part appears to be an essentially self-contained episode, a straightforward if tragic case for the files; it's even simply titled: 'A Case of Little Importance'. The second chapter introduces an entirely different crime and case -- but the fall-out from the first has ripple effects here as well, not least with the introduction of Yano, who comes to function as a sidekick of sorts to the detective (and whose role then keeps growing as the novel progresses). In this middle section, Kiuchi also sets things up so that the detective here faces a situation similar to that in the classic 1950 noir film, D.O.A.: the clock is ticking, and he knows it; he only has one day left to live, and there's basically nothing he can do about it. The novel moves from first-person narration -- the detective telling the story -- in the first chapter to an omniscient narrator in the second, before then switching back to the first person for the final episode -- a clever shift, bringing the story closer to home again as it comes to its conclusion. And the Epilogue -- narrated by Yano -- then neatly, quickly ties the last pieces together.
       The novel opens with the detective finishing up a case, late at night in a Roppongi bar. There's a bit of a scuffle before the police show up to sort things out, but the detective comes out of it with little more than a bleeding scratch -- a minor start to a series of events that will see him progressively more battered and badly bruised. His next case then basically falls into his lap, close to the scene of the previous one, a woman who overheard that he was a detective approaching him and asking for his help.
       For some five years bar hostess Junko Tajima had been in a relationship with the married Koichi Yamamoto, but recently she'd been raped by his younger half-brother, Katsuya, a violent thug who was now blackmailing her. She doesn't want Koichi to find out what happened to her, and she wants to escape Katsuya's clutches, but sees few options left for her: "Are my only options dying, vanishing or doing as that man says ?"
       The detective doesn't really see what he can do, but he agrees to look into the situation. Katsuya turns out to be a real piece of work, and the situation also turns out to be a bit more complicated than it initially seemed, but it comes to a resolution of sorts, and the detective can walk away from it -- summing up at the end of this chapter:

     But as far as I was concerned, it was old business.
     A man rapes a woman, one soul betrays another, someone kills somebody.
     A case of little importance, a dime a dozen in this city.
       It turns out, however, that he can't walk away from it quite so easily. For one, Junko Tajima can't either, and her actions have consequences. It turns out her lover was the son of a powerful local crime boss, and so the detective finds himself facing some very powerful wrath. Meanwhile, he lands a case where a woman asks him to find her brother -- who has gotten himself involved in a crime. The detective gets on it, but shifts his priorities to that of saving the victim of that crime; along the way he takes a lot of lumps, but manages to keep going; he also finds an ally of sorts in the increasingly helpful Yano.
       The final chapter has the detective speak for himself again -- and begins with him seeing a psychiatrist, to help him deal with the trauma of what he has recently experienced -- and the memories it brought back. In fact, the detective had been a patient of the same psychiatrist eight years earlier, when he had still been a policeman. Something terrible ended his career but he long couldn't remember the details. As the doctor explains:
     The doctor gave an enigmatic smile. "There's a drug called Propranolol hydrochloride. It was originally used to treat angina and high blood pressure, but another function is to disarticulate the hippocampus, where memories are stored, from the amygdala, which governs emotions. When administered to people who develop PTSD due to some terrible experience, the drug weakens the memory of the terrifying experience. Basically, it uncouples emotions from memory, thereby erasing those specific memories."
     "And then you made me believe the lies the police published."
     "It was the best option available to restore balance to your mind."
       As the detective points out, there was a problem with this: the emotions themselves, though uncoupled, didn't go away: "For eight years I have lived with anger and guilt, the cause of which I could not place".
       The detective doesn't want to take on any new cases for now -- and isn't in any great mental or physical condition to do so, in any case -- but when a woman comes to him, having heard that he takes on: "cases that no one else would touch" he can't bring himself to turn her away. The case involves the woman's young daughter, a first-grader, with the woman certain that: "My daughter is going to get killed".
       Yet again, things aren't quite what they seem, and certainly don't turn out the way one might have expected. We learn what happened eight years earlier --which makes even clearer why the detective is so determined to do right here. But doing right proves, yet again, to be a very messy business.
       The detective has an informant (also nameless, he is referred to simply as 'the informant') who helps him out on his various cases, and early on the informant points out the obvious:
     "Geez, you're not cut out for this P.I. gig." He swigged his beer straight from the bottle. He seemed to be in lecture mode today.
     "Really ? I think it's my calling ..."
     "Listen, a detective's gotta be a cool spectator. Do nothing more than what was asked of you and forget about the client as soon as the job is done. That's the proper way to go about it since not all clients are saints. But you, you let yourself get sucked into their problems. You always make it personal."
       He certainly does, and it certainly costs him here. A Dog in Water is the hardest of boiled, its protagonist gritting his teeth and doing what needs be done -- pushed on, not least, by his guilty conscience about his failure eight years earlier. It's a very well-conceived novel, and played out very nicely -- though, boy, is it bleak and bloody.
       For a Japan in which guns don't circulate widely, there's an awful lot of shooting and carnage -- including quite a bit of the rather casual sort, just to make a point. The police also seem to take a lot of things rather casually, in various ways; other than mopping some of the things up, not that much can be expected of them (which ultimately is also the reason the detective is no long a policeman, his part in what was also as systemic failure leading also to the horrible events that upended his life eight years earlier).
       The translation of A Dog in Water is a bit rough in parts -- e.g. sentences such as: "I picked up my coat and wore it" -- but the novel is so well crafted otherwise that one can mostly look past that. There is certainly some excess, especially in all the walking wounded that keep on going, and the situation that finds the detective with only a day to live is a bit far-fetched (though nicely resolved), but overall the quite intricate plotting is very good. And although much of A Dog in Water is terribly bleak, as characters often turn out worse than initially thought, Kiuchi balances this well with a supporting cast that includes the somewhat clownish informant and then the calm and dependable Yano, both of whom are supportive, as well as minor characters such as the sympathetic salon girl and the young, trusting Shiori. With a very good summing-up Epilogue, A Dog in Water doesn't exactly have a happy ending but a satisfying one; even in his conclusion, Kiuchi doesn't pull his punches -- but even though he sees his bleak worldview through, the final note is uplifting.
       A bit rough in some of the presentation (and translation), A Dog in Water is nevertheless a first-rate story and noir.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 March 2022

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A Dog in Water: Other books by Kiuchi Kazuhiro under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Kiuchi Kazuhiro (木内一裕) was born in 1960.

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© 2022 the complete review

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