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by Miyuki Miyabe
Kodansha International, February 2006
408 pages
ISBN: 4770029934

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I just know that CROSSFIRE is going to be one of my books of 2006. It's an absolutely breathtaking novel, with perfect pacing, vivid characters and the sharpest, sparest writing.

I have to admit that the blurb on the dust jacket wasn't immediately enticing when it mentioned one of the central characters, Junko Aoki, who has pyrokinetic powers -- she can start fires using just willpower. I was about to creep away, muttering 'woo woo' under my breath dismissively!

In case this makes you nervous, there's no woo woo here. What there is is a highly individual book which is a mix of the psychological, suspense, thriller, police procedural . . . oh, forget labels. Just read it!

Pretty 20-something Junko is a one-woman vigilante squad, as she uses her powers to take out violent criminals who have evaded justice. One night she comes across a gang of youths who have murdered a man and abducted a young woman. Junko is determined to rescue her -- but soon there's a trail of bodies across Tokyo and a lot of people on her trail.

One of these is the motherly figure of Detective Chikako Ishizu, a member of Tokyo police arson squad. Her colleagues think she has been given her present job simply because she's a woman. And those investigating the ever-increasing pile of bodies want to keep the arson crew out of it. Meanwhile, Junko has attracted other interest, that of the shadowy Guardians, a mysterious vigilante group who want her to join them.

Miyuki Miyabe is, on this evidence, a considerable writer. I couldn't put CROSSFIRE down, and 400 pages shot past in an instant. She plots like a dream, presents compelling and well-rounded characters, and has a honed writing style to die for.

Chikako is the most intriguing and well-rounded of the cast. She's almost 47, a conscientious detective who is well aware of what her colleagues think of her, but able to defuse tension and snide comments. I enjoyed her exchanges with work partner Kunihiko Shimizu, who's about the same age as her son and who has a tendency to behave like a brat! Chikako copes with him in her stride, treating him as she would an errant offspring.

Miyabe keeps the reader guessing to the very end and wondering if everyone is as they seem. I guessed one of the fairly minor plot strands, but the rest were a convincing shock.

One tiny quibble is that the translation from the Japanese by Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi and Anna Husson Isozaki is very American. I suspect this is a difficult tightrope for translators to tread, but there were times when the characters sounded straight off the streets of Noo Yawk, rather than Tokyo.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, February 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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