This book was provided to me by Soho Press via NetGalley.
Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Allison Markin Powell
A young writer arrives at a prison to interview a man arrested for homicide. He has been commissioned to write a full account of the case, from its bizarre and grisly details to the nature of the man behind the crime. The suspect, while world-renowned as a photographer, has a deeply unsettling portfolio—lurking beneath the surface of each photograph is an acutely obsessive fascination with his subject.
He stands accused of murdering two women—both burned alive—and will likely face the death penalty. But something isn’t quite right, and as the young writer probes further, his doubts about this man as a killer intensify. He soon discovers the desperate, twisted nature of all who are connected to the case, struggling to maintain his sense of reason and justice. What could possibly have motivated this man to use fire as a torturous murder weapon? Is he truly guilty, or will he die to protect someone else?
The suspect has a secret—it may involve his sister, who willfully leads men to their destruction, or the “puppeteer,” an enigmatic figure who draws in those who have suffered the loss of someone close to them. As the madness at the heart of the case spins out of control, the confusion surrounding it only deepens. What terrifying secrets will this impromptu investigator unearth as he seeks the truth behind these murders? (via Goodreads)
My expectation when reading a mystery is that I am going along with the investigator as he/she solves the case. Sometimes, as a reader, I know more than the sleuth. The enjoyment of that situation is in seeing how the investigator will catch up, or how they’ll avoid the peril I see coming. Generally, when reading a mystery, I believe I shouldn’t know substantially less than the protagonist. I should have seen what they’ve seen, heard what they’ve heard. If the fictional investigator makes a leap of logic, it should always be based on what has been shown to the reader.
Last Winter We Parted is told in the form of first person narration by the young writer and through the archived documents surrounding the murder case. Unfortunately, these archives have no context for the reader. If it’s a letter, we don’t know who it’s from or to, information that is presumably available to the narrator. There is even one archive written in first person, not by our narrator, with no context other than “archive.” At least, I think this is the case. Honestly, the structure was a little confusing and obfuscatory. The matter wasn’t helped by a pretty poor Kindle version of the ARC. By the end, the vague pieces are put together for the reader, allowing for no sense that I could have ever figured it out without it being told to me.
And all this is a shame. The labyrinth of photos, fires, philosophy, and doll fetishist that Nakamura leads the reader through is genuinely unnerving. The crux of the tale relies on a tension between beauty and grotesque, but the narrative itself gets in the way.
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication date: September 21, 2014
Genre: Horror thriller