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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Masquerade and the
Nameless Women

Mikage Eiji

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Title: Masquerade and the Nameless Women
Author: Mikage Eiji
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 222 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Masquerade and the Nameless Women - US
Masquerade and the Nameless Women - UK
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from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: 殺人鬼探偵の捏造美学
  • Translated by Daniel Morales

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Our Assessment:

B- : some good ideas, but ultimately goes too far in too many directions

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Masquerade and the Nameless Women begins with a "Prologue II"; with Prologue I coming only at the novel's conclusion. (The last third of the book is taken up by two Epilogues and that first Prologue.) It opens with the observation that:

     The serial killer Seiren Higano had rules.
       Yes, this is a novel about a serial killer -- and, yes, he is identified by name in the novel's opening sentence. To the public he is only known as 'Masquerade' -- and: "there wasn't a single person in all of Japan who didn't know about Masquerade".
       The short Prologue then concludes with the note that
     This is a personal story based on the serial killer Seiren Higano's aesthetic.
       (Yes, the serial killer's actual identity is hammered home again here.)
       The original Japanese title -- 殺人鬼探偵の捏造美学 -- reflects this much more clearly; translator Daniel Morales has suggested the original title: "works out to something like 'The Serial Killer Detective's Fabricated Aesthetic'", and Mikage is particularly focused on and interested in this idea of the 'art of murder'. (There's also the intriguing juxtaposition of a serial killer as detective in that title, and this is also a significant aspect of the story.)
       The story itself is then largely narrated by twenty-four-year-old Sergeant Yuri Uguisu. She has it in, for good reason, for Masquerade -- "I'd become a police officer for one reason and one reason alone: to arrest the serial killer Masquerade" -- and the case that sets things in motion here is the discovery of the body of someone identified as Reina Myoko, the murder sure looking like Masquerade's handiwork: "When someone sees a body with its face cut off and a limb missing, the first person that comes to mind is Masquerade", and this corpse has a foot cut off and the face hacked away at .....
       Coïncidentally, Reina was a classmate of Yuri's at the all-girls school they attended, though they were not really friends, Reina hanging out with a group calling themselves the Bumblebees. Yuri can thus fill in some of the information about her -- though information is hard to come by. The police do round up her fiancé, her father (she was adopted, and her mother died when she was a teenager), and her "self-proclaimed boyfriend" -- but, for example, they are all hard-pressed to accurately describe her. More bizarrely: none of them have a photograph of her; indeed, the police can't find any photograph of her.
       Early in the investigation, Yuri's superior, Yamaji, seeks out some unofficial outside help -- "Dr.Seiren Higano, psychiatrist and part-time detective". As Yamaji explains: "He's a psychiatrist as a day job, and a detective on the side. He doesn't advertise it, but supposedly he's submitted all the paperwork to be a detective". Readers of course realize that this is the last guy who should be working on a case that possibly involves the serial killer Masquerade, but the cops are blissfully unaware of Higano's other sideline and Higano gets to be in the thick of the investigation the rest of the way.
       The circumstances of the killing, the few details about Reina that they can piece together, and the limited evidence they find makes for a baffling case. The three men in her life -- fiancée, boyfriend, and father -- are obvious suspects, but the evidence and timeline doesn't add up. The appearance of one of the Bumblebees, wanting to be helpful, only muddies the water further -- as does the violent death of one of those close to Reina. Soon the police are wondering whether the body even was Reina, and whether Reina is even dead.
       From the first, Mikage emphasizes the concept of misdirection -- chapter one is titled 'Miss Direction', with an epigraph of the dictionary definition of 'misdirection', and, Yuri recalls about Reina: "The nickname she got because she was so beautiful you always wanted to look away: 'Miss Direction'". Various characters are involved in misdirection -- certainly Reina long was, but others too prove less than straightforward; Higano, too, obviously has to play games to keep in the good graces of the police and learn about the investigation while, in fact, being Masquerade.
       Mikage plays with some fun ideas here, but it does all get rather convoluted. Even Yuri at one point notes, about the latest oddity that pops up in the course of their investigations: "Of course something ridiculous like this would happen" -- a sentiment that could be repeated numerous times in the story. Even Mikage has to admit, when the full story emerges: "It was a crazy story".
       Of course, it's absurd from the start -- beginning with its premise of a serial killer of this sort, unlikely anywhere, but especially in Japan, where any kind of murder is a rarity. Mikage makes Masquerade into a much larger than life kind of figure -- a fantasy:
He'd transcended reality, transcended substance, had turned into an illusory urban legend. And somehow he had managed to charm everyone by combining the malevolence of murder with his beautiful aesthetic.
       It's that aesthetic -- noted already in the novel's Japanese title -- that is, of course, the key, the presentation of murder as an art, with certain standards of beauty and perfection. Mikage plays with that reasonably well -- certainly in the explanation of the crime -- but heaps rather too much into the story for it to be truly effective. Reina and her great beauty, and the question of why there are no photographs of her, and then the whole swarm of Bumblebees already makes for a lot, but Mikage heaps on more, from Reina's relationships with her adopted parents (complicated, in both cases) and then the men in her life to, of course, Higano hovering over the whole investigation. Far-fetched is fine, but this story stretches in far too many directions.
       Too clever -- or trying to be -- by half, Masquerade and the Nameless Women simply stuffs too much into one story, with Mikage not quite able to settle on what he wants to make of it all. The aesthetic focus is a solid foundation, but he runs riot with too much else to allow it to work to best effect. The novel is some fun, but not nearly as much as it could be.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 January 2023

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Masquerade and the Nameless Women: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Mikage Eiji (御影瑛路) was born in 1983.

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© 2023 the complete review

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