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Very good writing, but not quite what I expected for the story line...

  • Jul 8, 2012
  • by
I picked up Subduction by Todd Shimoda from the library earlier this month, expecting something different than what I ended up getting. I don't recall where I first noticed the book, but the description was along the lines of a seismological murder mystery. At its core, that's technically accurate. In reality, it's more a story of how a person's actions from the past continue to cause tremors in the lives of others over the years. Add in the cultural aspect of the story being set on a tiny Japanese island, and I experienced a bit of a jolt (pun somewhat intended) in terms of pacing and motivations.

The story revolves around three individuals who find themselves on a Japanese island where the small fishing village has seen better days. The government would like to move the aging population off the island due to the danger of earthquakes in the area, but the villagers would prefer to simply be left alone. They don't trust the newcomers, and that trust factor colors everything that happens.

Mari Sasaki is on the island to record the stories of the islanders for a potential documentary. She's done a relatively good job getting people to open up to her, and she knows how many of the lives interconnect on the island. Aki Ishikawa is the seismologist trying to develop an early warning system for the earthquakes that plague the island. He left a wife and child to pursue his research, but he's not very open as to why he felt compelled to do this. Jun Endo is the primary character, and he's stuck on the island for the next four years. He was a first year intern who took the fall for a mistake by the head resident that resulted in the death of a patient. The island exile is his punishment.

Due to curiosity and boredom, Endo tries to befriend Sasaki and Ishikawa. He senses that there's more than meets the eye when it comes to a possible history between the two, and it may be that Ishikawa is jealous over the time he's spending with Sasaki. Endo's also trying to understand the open hostility from various islanders, and whether those feelings might be responsible for deadly actions, both past and present. Each new revelation twists the story in another direction, and it becomes increasingly difficult to know who to trust... if anyone.

I think my confusion about how I view this novel is based on expectations. As a murder mystery, it moves very slow. In fact, the actual crime could be viewed as secondary to the real purpose of the writer. As a story about people and motivation, it's layered and intricate. Endo draws you into his world of obligation and frustration over how he ended up in such a lifeless location. The other characters are more difficult to get to know, as you are working from the same lack of knowledge as Endo. Patience is the key in letting things emerge at their own pace.

While Subduction isn't a bad book in any sense, I probably would not have been so quick to read it had I known a bit more about the style. Shimoda is a very good writer, but the book wasn't what I would normally move to the top of my recreational reading list.

Obtained From: Library
Payment: Borrowed

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About the reviewer
Thomas Duff ()
Ranked #42
Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
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"Todd Shimoda's Subduction is a wonderful, multi-layered mystery filled with good humor, razor-sharp tension and startling aftershocks that recalls the best of Haruki Murakami." -- Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, author of Love in Translation and Midori by Moonlight.
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