The novel opens just before midnight in a Denny’s restaurant in downtown Tokyo. There, Mari Esai sits at the front window by herself, reading a textbook; she intends to wait out the night before taking the train back home. A lanky, amateur jazz trombonist named Takahashi soon enters the restaurant, passing Mari for a few steps until he remembers her face: two years earlier, they met; Takahashi knows her older sister, Eri. Mari consents to him sitting down with her but remains annoyed at his presence during their initial conversation. In discussing their previous encounter, the reader learns that Mari, shy and “different,” is antithetical in character to her older sister, who is sociable and “a real beauty.” “We live two different lives,” she says. Takahashi eventually leaves to join an all-night band practice.
Twenty minutes later, however, a large woman bursts into the restaurant and approaches Mari. Takahashi has told the woman, Kaoru, that Mari speaks fluent Chinese; Kaoru needs a Chinese speaker to deal with an injured patron at the Alphaville, a “love hotel” she manages. Once there, Mari finds that the woman, a prostitute, was beaten and robbed by a customer; broken furniture litters the room and blood is everywhere. After finding the correct footage on the hotel’s security cameras, Kaoru uncovers the perpetrator: a night office worker who works nearby.
The novel intermittently offers several short vignettes of Shirakawa, the man who beat up the prostitute: a computer industry worker for a company named VERITECH who prefers to work alone in the middle of the night. He “does not look like the kind of man who would buy a Chinese prostitute in a love hotel—and certainly no one who would administer an unmerciful pounding to such a woman.” The reader learns he is “impeccably dressed” and listens to classical music; he is married and has children.
Mari and Takahashi are reunited hours later, and his connection to Kaoru is revealed: he visited the Alphaville hotel once with a girl, possibly Eri. During their conversation, Takahashi further reveals that he and Eri met two months prior and that Eri told him she “wishes she could be closer to [Mari];” he also tells Mari of her Eri’s abnormal intake of prescriptive medications. Mari bemoans the “history between us” that has caused their distance. Takahashi suggests that Mari’s sister, metaphorically or literally, is in a place where she is “raising wordless...
(The entire section is 1013 words.)