(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Shizuko Natsuki writes murder mysteries that are meticulously developed through detailed analysis of what did or could have occurred and what will happen. Detailed description is very important for building suspense and atmosphere in her novels. She accumulates precise details of the plot, often with considerable repetition of exactly what occurred or may have occurred, without really explaining its importance. This technique imbues the story with a sense of the unknown. The puzzle plot is a common structure in her novels. In Kumo kara okuru shi (1990; Death from the Clouds, 1991), she portrays detectives who reconstruct the crime in various ways by reasoning out how it may have taken place. Her use of this technique recalls the analytical style of Seich Matsumoto.

Another technique that Natsuki often employs is that of the public inquiry. This plot structure is built on collaboration between the police and the people questioned. By portraying the interaction between the police and the public in slightly different ways, she creates complex plots in her novels and challenges the reader to solve them. She uses this technique in Fuh wa gogo niji ni todoku (1983; The Obituary Arrives at Two O’Clock, 1988). The relationship between the police and the public is often not portrayed as totally positive. There is a reluctance on the part of many of the characters to talk with the police. They view the police with a mixture of respect and fear.

Natsuki also uses the inverted plot structure and a variation on it. In The Third Lady, Kohei Daigo plots and reasons about the murder that he is planning to commit. Natsuki uses this type of plot in the traditional way, giving the killer’s view and interpretation of the murder. In Kokubyaku no tabiji (1977; Innocent Journey, 1989), Yoko Noda and Takashi Sato enter into a suicide pact, but when Yoko wakes up from the sleeping pills, she finds Takashi has been murdered and she is likely to be the prime suspect in his death. In an effort to find Takashi’s killer before the police arrest her, Yoko attempts to reconstruct the crime and find the psychological motivation for it. Here the crime is not portrayed through the eyes or mind of the murderer but rather through the eyes of the innocent suspect.

Natsuki’s novels inform the reader about social customs and the Japanese lifestyle. Japanese temples and their social and financial relationship to the public are extensively discussed in Death from the Clouds. The settings of her novels also reveal much about life in Japan. Her male characters are typically businessmen whose lives revolve around their companies. Business trips are common, and the men are often called away on such trips; thus, business hotels and coffee shops play a major role in her novels.

Telephone calls also play a significant role in Natsuki’s mysteries. Her businessman husbands often call to inform their wives that they will not be home that evening or that they are going away for a few days on a business trip. The lives of her wives are centered on their homes and children, while their husbands’ daily lives are controlled by their companies. Natsuki portrays a society in which married couples live separate lives.

The social background of the characters—their financial and social class and family status—are important in the plots of Natuski’s novels. She demonstrates the affluence of her characters by giving them golf club memberships, very expensive in a nation where real estate is at a premium. Family relationships and status form the driving force of the plot of Murder at Mount Fuji. Chiyo, the favorite in the Wada family, suddenly claims that she has killed her grandfather; however, the death actually appears to have been an accident. Concerned for their family reputation and for Chiyo, the family bands together to create alibis, deceive the police, and throw the blame on someone who is not a member of the family.

Natsuki’s murder mysteries are permeated with psychological drama and a sense of an inexplicable supernatural element. Kaze no tobira (1980; Portal of the Wind, 1990) recounts a murder that may not have happened. A man’s photograph in a magazine has a mysterious, overwhelming attraction for a young woman, and a bereaved daughter has a sense of a tragedy that she cannot identify....

(The entire section is 1808 words.)