Book Review: All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe

WorthAll She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe.
(this edition published by Oriel, an imprint of Orion,1998).

On one level, All She Was Worth is a traditional type of detective novel. A young woman, Shoko Sekine, goes missing. Her distraught fiancé contacts his uncle, Shunsuke Honma, a police detective on long-term sick leave because of a knee injury, to ask him to find her. Honma lives in an apartment block with his ten-year old son Makoto. We soon learn that Honma’s wife, Chizuko, died a few years previously in a car accident. Their son is looked after by Isaka, a neighbour who enjoys cooking and keeping house, so makes his living childminding and looking after apartments in the block (his wife is the family’s main earner).

Honma is therefore able to accept the task of searching for Shoko, and it is this search that forms the main part of this excellent book. Honma begins by visiting the woman’s last employer, and it isn’t long before inconsistencies and surprises appear. Soon, he begins to suspect he may not be looking for one lost person but two, and two lives begin to be uncovered in parallel – or do they? 

 Honma has to travel from the Tokyo suburb where he lives to Osaka and other towns and districts as he refuses to give up on his seemingly hopeless assignment, each clue failing to support his intangible 
Miyuki_miyabe  hypothesis yet leading him on into yet further insubstantial directions. Honma is a great character, somewhat dour and slightly insecure about his long absence from work and at sea without his wife, to whom he was devoted in a lovely quiet, domestic way (he cannot bear to cut the spare buttons out of the lining of his new clothes because it is something she always did, keeping the buttons in her sewing box). He loves his son, yet cannot find words to express his feelings. I loved the little male family that is gradually created at Honma’s home as the book continues, first by the addition of Isaka, then a colleague from the police department, then a young man who Honma meets on his search, who in their different ways contribute to Honma's mission. These relationships are portrayed touchingly yet unsentimentally, and give the book a real warmth, especially when the little boy is cruelly upset and all the men rally round him in their different ways.

But the novel is very far from being a ‘cosy’. First published in 1992 and translated into English (actually American English, by a conglomerate according to the publisher, by Alfred Birnbaum according to Wikipedia) in 1996, it is strongly critical social comment of the personal and family devastation caused by the uncontrolled rise in consumer spending and credit of the 1960s, when regulations in Japan were relaxed. For me, this book ticks all the boxes – I learned a lot about attitudes and the ways of life of people in Japan, and about the country, as well as thoroughly enjoying the strong if tragic plot, the social commentary (occasionally digressive but I didn't mind), and the combination of toughness and humanity that characterise the best crime novels. The title is also apt, as becomes apparent.

I first read about this author (pictured) in newbooks magazine, and was encouraged to try her by Kathy, a commenter at this blog. I am very glad I did, and will soon be reading another of the very talented Miyuki Miyabe’s crime novels (sadly, not many of them have been translated into English).

Amazon reviews of this novel.

Other reviews at: Three Steps Over Japan blog, Book Crossing journal, My Friend Amy blog.

About the author at Wikipedia.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe

  1. Maxine, as usual you have tempted me with this book especially as Shunske Honma has a long term knee injury. Very believable. ;o)

  2. Thanks for the notice on recommending this book. Your review just convinced me to reread it as I read it awhile ago and have forgotten much of it.

  3. Maxine – I am, as always, very impressed with this review. This book sounds really intriguing and, of course, I always like to learn about new places and cultures when I read. Thanks!!

  4. The knee injury is quite fortuitous, Norman, as there are no dentists in this novel;-)
    Thanks everyone for the kind remarks – I think this book is very good and gives a very different picture of Japan from the normal way we see the country and its people depicted in the West.

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