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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Nocturne of Remembrance

Nakayama Shichiri

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Title: Nocturne of Remembrance
Author: Nakayama Shichiri
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 253 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Nocturne of Remembrance - US
Nocturne of Remembrance - UK
Nocturne of Remembrance - Canada
  • Japanese title: 追憶の夜想曲
  • Translated by Paul Rubin

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Our Assessment:

B : unusual courtroom drama-novel that packs more surprises than suspected

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Nocturne of Remembrance, the only one of popular writer Nakayama Shichiri's novels translated into English to date, is the second in a series featuring defense lawyer Reiji Mikoshiba. Frustrating though it is not to be able begin with the first in the series, Nocturne of Remembrance manages to get at what is surely the essence of Mikoshiba (and the series) -- a ... youthful indiscretion (to put it very, very mildly) and its lingering aftereffects -- and utilizes it very effectively in the case Mikoshiba takes on.
       The opening of the novel is gruesome and shocking; some readers may have difficulty getting beyond it (though the rest of the novel is much easier to take). The slight relief that comes with the realization that the just-described scenes are a dream is soon tempered by the understanding that it is, in fact, not a fantasy but a haunting memory. It is soon clear that the novel's protagonist did a very, very bad thing in his youth -- so bad that readers are left wondering how he could possibly have been allowed to become a lawyer. (The "nation's lenient juvenile law" and a name-change were apparently sufficient.)
       At the start of the novel Mikoshiba has been out of commission for three months, recovering from an assault (presumably the dramatic conclusion of the first novel in the series ...). He has a one-man law firm, and his clerk Yoko has held down the fort in his absence, but as soon as he is released from hospital Mikoshiba throws himself back into his work -- albeit into a case that is atypical for him. A trial has just come to an end, with Akiko Tsuda convicted of killing her husband and sentenced to sixteen years. It's a straightforward case -- she confessed, too -- but there is an appeals process, and Mikoshiba does everything he can to take over her defense, including exerting pressure on Akiko's counsel to an extent that might be considered blackmail (not that that lawyer isn't happy to dump off this lost ca(u)se). Mikoshiba is certainly better-suited to handle this kind of case than the trial lawyer was, but everyone is baffled why he would take it on. The trial was lost and, given the evidence and the confession, the defendant's guilt seems to be beyond question, so there seems little more that could be accomplished here in the appeals process than convince the court to show some leniency and maybe shave a few years off the sentence.
       Mikoshiba is very good at what he does -- "that lawyer is outrageously capable", Akiko's father-in-law Yozo recognizes -- and his thoroughness is already on clear display in how he goes about getting himself appointed to take over the defense. But he's known for only taking on the cases of people who can pay through the nose -- "that guy only takes on wealthy clients" -- and of not being too troubled by at least some ethics: "The ideal client was wealthy and shady". Akiko has no money, so there's no big payday possible here, and even Mikoshiba's talk about benefitting from the publicity of the high-profile case doesn't sound very convincing. Meanwhile, while Akiko is relieved at having more competent counsel, she senses there's reason for concern here too:

For sure, Mikoshiba seemed quite used to dealing with criminal cases, but the way he'd looked at her invited anxiety. That was not the eye of someone who'd taken mercy on a hard-pressed client. It was the eye of a reptile that had grasped some prey.
       The victim, Shingo Tsuda, had had a good software job but lost it, and from being a good provider for his family -- if never a real family man -- had turned into a hopeless day-trading loner who wouldn't come out of his room and had saddled the family with huge debts. He and Akiko had two daughters, now six (Rinko) and thirteen (Miyuki), and Shingo also sometimes physically assaulted his wife and younger daughter. Eventually it seems Akiko just snapped, stabbing her husband as he was in the bath, then caught cleaning up and trying to dispose of the body by her father-in-law, who dropped by that evening. The facts were not much in dispute at the trial, with Akiko having confessed to what she did; she also claimed to be romantically involved with another man.
       As the prosecutor notes, it was baffling why Mikoshiba would want to take on the appeal:
A simple incident with a simple motive, an uncomplicated first trial -- reading the court records hadn't revealed any flaws in the prosecution's claims. What on earth about this case was enticing to Mikoshiba, and where had he found a hole ?
       Akiko is just hoping to get a few years cut from her sentence, so she can take care of the girls; as is (and in one of the novel's less plausible bits), they are living on their own in the house where the murder took place, with an aunt and grandfather Yozo sometimes looking in on them. Rinko is a strong-willed bundle of enthusiasm, almost immediately seeking out her mother's new lawyer all on her own and pushing him to do his best -- a nuisance that he has difficulty dealing with. Meanwhile, Miyuki is miserable and spends almost all her time in her room; it is young Rinko that handles the household.
       When the appeals case begins, everything seems to be going the prosecution's way. The case is so clear-cut that there's really little to discuss here, and what few small new bits and pieces come out only serve to strengthen the prosecution's case. Still, readers sense that it's not quite that simple. For one, Akiko is clearly holding something back. She wants Mikoshiba to make her case -- but in the way she has framed it. She wants him to do his job well -- get her sentenced reduced -- but apparently not too well (like getting her off ...).
       Given the scenario, it seems fairly obvious from quite early on what happened -- so much so that one has to wonder why the police didn't scratch a little more below this surface, even if it all looked so obvious (and even though Akiko confessed). But despite this, Mikoshiba's extensive investigations, and his defense, seem to go in totally different directions -- and he does not lay out the obvious explanation until the very end (indeed, he never does in court). Instead, he digs into Akiko's past, uncovering what has left her the damaged soul she is -- which does, admittedly, also prove helpful in his courtroom defense of her.
       The paths Mikoshiba takes in Nocturne of Remembrance can seem confusing; readers will certainly have very strong suspicions about the truth (at least regarding Shingo's murder) and wonder why the lawyer isn't just honing in on that. Indeed, in that respect -- the actual case itself -- Nakayama can't offer any real surprise. But the denouement nevertheless comes with quite a few neat twists. Mikoshiba proves himself to be the most adroit of lawyers. Particularly impressive is how he serves his client without revealing the secret that she was so desperate to hold onto (at least not in open court; he does spell it -- and a whole lot more -- out for the prosecutor, who then has quite a few decisions to make as to how to proceed). By the end, Mikoshiba has revealed a whole lot of other secrets -- a bucketload -- and one is left wondering where on earth he (and his career) can go from there, but it's neat to see that not nearly everything was quite as readers likely believed. While the novel proceeds somewhat awkwardly at times, it does have a very strong ending.
       Some of Nocturne of Remembrance seems too far-fetched -- notably young Rinko's determined shows of independence -- but in its neat, explosive resolution and the intriguing character of Mikoshiba (who, fortunately, isn't shown going all soft around Rinko) makes for an ultimately satisfying read (and leaves one curious about the other volumes in this series, and its protagonist, who, from his own abyss, vowed: "I will spend my life helping people who are reaching out from the abyss).

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 May 2021

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Nocturne of Remembrance: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Nakayama Shichiri (中山七里) was born in 1961.

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© 2021 the complete review

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