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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Hunter

Nonami Asa

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Hunter

Title: The Hunter
Author: Nonami Asa
Genre: Novel
Written: 1996 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 269 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Hunter - US
The Hunter - UK
The Hunter - Canada
  • A Detective Takako Otomichi Mystery
  • Japanese title: 凍える牙
  • Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter
  • Awarded the Naoki prize, 1996

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Our Assessment:

B- : offering interesting insight into Japan, but rather laboured

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
USA Today . 31/1/2007 Carol Memmott
The Washington Post . 11/3/2007 Dennis Drabelle

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Hunter, first published in Japan in 1996, has a slightly dated feel because of the way on-the-job sexism is portrayed. But Otomichi's free spirit -- perfectly rendered in a scene in which she and the wolf/dog run together -- reaffirms any doubts about her indomitability." - Carol Memmott, USA Today

  • "For all its jolt quotient, The Hunter may be most appealing when it simply introduces us to Japanese mores." - Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post

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 Hunter is a police procedural set in Japan. The procedural part is earnest and by-the-book (step by step by long step), but with her focus on and close observation of her characters Nonami gives the book a bit more depth than the mystery alone allows for.
       The central crime being investigated is given the catchy name: 'The Tachikawa Timed Combustion Belt Homicide Case', which already tells you a lot about the book. Nonami does have a character make fun of the name, but both the long, clunky designation and the ridiculous crime (yes, it really does involve an incendiary belt-buckle) sum things up pretty well: the book in a nutshell. The crime, with which the novel opens, is spectacular enough -- a man sits down in a restaurant and suddenly goes up in flames -- but pretty ridiculous, no matter how hard Nonami tries to make it sound convincing (and, as with every detail, she tries very hard). Complicating the case is the fact that the victim appears also to have recently been bitten by a dog -- and soon enough he's not the only one. But no mere dog will do -- it's clearly a wolf-dog behind this .....
       One of the detectives on the case is a rare woman in the Criminal Affairs division, Takako Otomichi. Divorced, still fairly young, she's partnered with the short, grumpy Takizawa, who really doesn't take to her. Indeed, at least at the start, he pretty much ignores her as they go around asking questions and investigating.
       Much of the appeal of The Hunter lies in the insights it provides into contemporary Japanese culture. Takako stands out as a woman anyway, but paired with Takizawa the role of the woman in this society and this job is made even clearer. It's not just that she's a woman, of course: considerably younger, she naturally defers to her senior colleague anyway. But in the reactions of other colleagues, and those they interview one gets a good sense of the role expected of women, and the difficulties someone like Takako faces in trying to move beyond them -- even (or especially) when she has something to contribute. (As it turns out, she does have one special talent which she's eventually called upon to put to use.)
       The focus on Takako and her personal life also helps in giving an idea of how this society functions (and doesn't). Among the things she has to deal with is a family crisis, as her younger sister got involved with a married man, an affair which their parents (who the sister still lives with, despite being in her late twenties) understandably disapprove of. The sister is yet another example of a Japanese woman trying to find a place in this particular culture (and making a complete hash of it).
       Takizawa also has some personal issues, which go some way to explain his particular attitude towards his female partner. Meanwhile, the tour the detectives lead, talking to witnesses and searching for clues, also offers a picture of parts of contemporary Japan which is occasionally of interest: it's the encounters, and the mutual assessing of character and circumstances that Nonami does best.
       Unfortunately, it's hard to take the crimes very seriously. They're quite brutal, but the prominent role of the wolf-dog likely will strike Western readers as too Cujo-esque -- and the incendiary belt buckle idea is simply too silly. Nonami does get it across that such crimes obviously play differently in Japan than in the more hardened West; one almost feels she invented these crimes because she couldn't even conceive of a human being himself causing such bloody, vicious injury any more directly. Indeed, the search for the animal that caused the attacks, and the various explanations on offer also attest to a different sort of domestic-animal-fascination than one generally encounters in, say, the US. A half-wild, half-domesticated animal such as the wolf-dog resonates particularly strongly in well-ordered (and heeled) Japan .....
       The Hunter is a fairly long read. The Japanese police apparently have far more resources and patience than comparable departments abroad. The detectives spend hours and hours and hours talking to every- and anyone, it seems, and while there are some sociological nuggets of interest throughout, it can get to be pretty arduous going for the reader. Meanwhile, the crime-story is too bizarre to really convince or hold much appeal, and it distracts from what Nonami does and presents well -- the individual characters and their interactions (or lack thereof) as a reflection of contemporary Japanese culture.
       Of some interest, but hard to truly recommend.

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Reviews: Other books by Nonami Asa under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Prolific Japanese author Nonami Asa (乃南アサ) was born in 1960.

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© 2007-2021 the complete review

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