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The Informer
Akimitsu Takagi

The Informer
Akimitsu Takagi
Soho Press
New York 1999

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Kudos to The Soho Press for bringing yet another of Japanese writer Akimitsu Takagi’s crime novels back into print. In 1997, Soho published the classic The Tattoo Murder Case, and now we have the brilliant corporate thriller The Informer.

Told in the third-person, The Informer begins from the point of view of Shigeo Segawa, an ex Tokyo Stock Exchange worker who lost his job by practicing, a type of illegal trading called tebari. Now the Japanese stock market has crashed and there’s no hope of returning to his old career. Disgraced and broke, he runs into an old friend who, via another friend from his university days, knows of a job opening. The job as a salesman for a “trading company” pays a mysteriously high base-salary for selling massage machines to corporate executives. Segawa doesn’t know exactly why he was hired for the job, nor why his boss doesn’t have a problem with the fact, after a few weeks, he hasn’t sold a single machine. Finally, his boss confesses that his company is really any industrial spying agency and he was just “testing” Segawa to see if he has what it takes to be an industrial spy.

It isn’t a hard decision for the morally bankrupt Segawa to accept the spurious position. His first assignment is to obtain “an important new material” from the Shichiyo Chemical Company, which is owned by a former classmate of Segawa’s. Complicating matters, Segawa used to be in love with the classmate’s wife and he still has feelings for her. This causes yet another moral crisis for Segawa–if he is to do his job properly it would mean deceiving his friends. Like any good spy, Segawa shoves his feelings aside and attempts to infiltrate the company.

When a murder takes place and Segawa is set up as the obvious suspect, the novel brilliantly shifts point of view. We leave Segawa and most of the rest of the book is told from the point of view of State Prosecutor Saburo Kirishima who gradually uncovers the intricate plot. It is refreshing to read a straight forward, plot-driven mystery novel that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The narrative is void of flowery descriptions and unnecessary character development. There are snippets of insightful detail about Japanese customs, but the book never attempt to be anything more than a crime novel. Additionally, what with the recent turmoil in the Japanese stock market, the major theme of a fallen stockbroker who has to resort to desperate measures in an attempt to regain his dignity, is quite timely (The Informer was originally published in 1965 in Japan and was a major bestseller).

Although part of the killer’s plot relies on good fortune rather than cunning planning, all the pieces of the puzzle come together neatly and satisfactorily, including the real reason why Segawa was hired at the trading company. The Informer is a fun, vigorous read by a true crime master.

Reviewed by Jason Starr


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