(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Akimitsu Takagi’s writing style is terse, reflecting a Japanese sensibility in both its reserved use of dialogue and its reliance on minimalist description. However, his concise style of writing should not be construed as dispassionate, as certain critics have called it. Takagi’s most memorable characters, Kenzo Matsushita in The Tattoo Murder Case and Etsuko Ogata in Zero no mitsugetsu (1965; Honeymoon to Nowhere, 1995), ache with suffering on learning that their lovers have been murdered. The emotions of the bereaved are often conveyed to readers through what is not explicitly expressed. Despite the very modern circumstances of their pain, Takagi’s characters are steeped in traditional Japanese behaviors that require them to constrain their words and emotions; their suffering seeps out despite their efforts at containment. The restraint the author exercises in his use of language serves to intensify his characters’ miseries even as the objects of their desires are forever removed from their embraces.

A typical Takagi novel intentionally mirrors in its structure and style the tension that existed in Japanese society from the late 1940’s through the 1960’s. The traditions and social customs associated with a culture as venerable as Japan’s inevitably came into conflict with the rapid changes the country faced after its defeat in World War II. First Japan recovered from the devastation the war had wrought; then it rebuilt itself into a modern industrial power. Takagi personalizes this broad conflict between tradition and change by reconfiguring its scale; in his novels it is individual men and women who struggle against imposing societal forces in a more localized venue. Issues of identity within the community emerge as the new men and women of Japan question what it means to be a citizen in the modern era. Depending on the novel in which they appear, those individuals might be on the side of the law or the very criminals the investigator seeks.

A recurring motif in Takagi’s novels is the individual’s search for romantic fulfillment in a sterile society. Men and women are depicted as equally infused with sexual passions, and erotic subtexts permeate most of the plots. However, there are few fulfilled characters in his novels because their passions frequently get mixed up with their (or others’) criminal pursuits, resulting in the loss of the desired object. The prospect of better futures for most of Takagi’s characters is bleak, even for those who remain standing at the close of various novels. Neither the resolution of a mystery nor the administration of justice can alleviate the weight of the pessimism that pervades his writing.

Although scholars have commented favorably on Takagi’s innovations in style, format, subject, and character, he is not without detractors. Critics cite his overreliance on stock generic devices, such as his fondness for puzzles, coincidences, dead ends, and sensationalistic story lines, as evidence that Takagi is not as original a fabricator of detective fiction as his reputation suggests. Others criticize Takagi’s tendency to introduce third parties late in his novels. Typically these characters use extraordinary methods to resolve the mysteries...

(The entire section is 1331 words.)