Tetsuo Otani did not become the superintendent of the Hyogo prefectural police force by shuffling papers and playing departmental politics. Indeed, as a lowly inspector he solved more than his share of difficult cases. None of those criminal confrontations, however, has such a hold on his memories as a visit to the island of Awaji.
Otani was called to the island because the police found themselves faced with the first murder in twenty years. That, in and of itself, was bad enough, but the victim was an American Mormon engaged in his obligatory term of missionary work on the remote Japanese island. Needless to say, the local inspector wants to put as much distance as possible between himself and this potentially explosive case. To complicate matters further, a local attorney has asserted that the murder was committed by a “fox-possessed family.”
Fox possession is a peculiarly Japanese phenomena, and Otani is not unfamiliar with the concept: As a child he heard stories of fabulous foxes who appeared in human form to bewitch, trick, and, on occasion, do favors for people they decided to help. Still, Otani is not a superstitious peasant--he is the very embodiment of the rational materialist who mistrusts anything he can not put his hands upon. Yet, as Otani conducts his investigation, he becomes increasingly aware that his comfortable world no longer conforms to established physical laws. Indeed, it takes a full-fledged exorcism before he is able to identify and bring to justice the guilty party.
Melville is quite at home with Japan, its people, and their culture; one of the most impressive facets of his work is the utter feeling of verisimilitude the reader experiences in regard to his descriptive passages. If this is not how the Japanese live and think, the reader must say, then they should read Melville and “get with the program.”