Seicho Matsumoto: A Quiet Place (2016) – Kikanakatta Basho (1975)


Seicho Matsumoto’s A Quiet Place is the second Japanese crime novel I’ve read this month. While it is very different from Keigo Higashino’s Devotion of Suspect X, they have one thing in common – they are both unusual and full of twists.

However, the similarities stop there. Higashino depicts a modern Japan, while Matsumoto shows us a very traditional Japan. Of course, Matsumoto’s book is much older. It was originally published in 1975. The world it depicts, the world of government officials, still exists, but the society as a whole has undergone changes. It’s a ritualised, rigid, and restrictive world with strict hierarchies and rules. There isn’t a lot of freedom and losing face is something that can happen all too quickly and always has devastating consequences.

This world is the backdrop of Matsumoto’s novel. Tsuneo Asai, a government bureaucrat, is informed of his wife’s death while he’s on a business trip to Kobe. The way he handles this situation, more afraid to inconvenience his superior than to rush home and find out what happened, is typical of his mindset. Unlike most others at the department of agriculture, he doesn’t come from a good family or a prestigious university. He’s not automatically promoted but he has to work hard for every step he wants to climb. His fear, not to get promoted or to displease his superiors is so great that it overshadows every single decision.

Back home in Tokyo, Asai learns his wife died of a heart attack in front of a boutique. He knew she had a weak heart but it is still a shock. She was so careful to avoid exertion. Even though he was fond of her, to find himself widowed again, is more an inconvenience than true heartbreak. What puzzles him the most is the question what she was doing in that neighbourhood. She wasn’t someone who went out much. He knew she attended haiku classes, but other than that, she mostly stayed at home. It isn’t entirely clear why he suddenly gets so obsessed with his wife’s doings but he does. Soon he finds out that he didn’t really know her. He was sure that her haiku writing was mediocre and now he learns she had great talent. When he discovers a hotel near the boutique in front of which she died, he begins to suspect she might have visited that hotel with a lover. He’s wrong but that doesn’t stop his suspicions.

As soon as he begins to suspect his wife, he starts an investigation and even hires a private detective. Asai is as obsessed as he is tenacious. At the same time, he knows that people at work shouldn’t find out what he suspects and what he is doing. The longer he investigates, the more he entangles himself.

I followed this character with great fascination and astonishment, but for the longest time I didn’t understand why this was called a crime novel. It’s clear from the beginning that Asai’s wife wasn’t killed. So why was this labelled crime? I can assure you, it’s labelled correctly but I won’t tell you why.

Apparently Matsumoto was called the Japanese Simenon. While I enjoyed this book a lot – especially for its depiction of Japanese society and certain neighbourhoods in Tokyo – I don’t see a resemblance. Matsumoto was very prolific, so possibly other novels led to that comparison. Luckily, quite a few of them are available in translation.

I came across Matsumoto’s book on Guy’s blog here.


This review is my third contribution to Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge X

Here’s the review list.

27 thoughts on “Seicho Matsumoto: A Quiet Place (2016) – Kikanakatta Basho (1975)

  1. This has been on my radar ever since Guy reviewed it last year. It sounds like the sort of psychological/character-driven crime novel I might enjoy. One for the TBR wishlist, I think…

  2. I’m so intrigued by your wonderings about the categorization which was, apparently, just as it should have been! I love it when writers trust their readers enough to make them wait for stuff! (As a side-note, I have my copy of HMoD now and have read a few pages, hoping to dive in on the weekend.)

    • I also knew from Guy’s review that it was crime but it took a while to become clear.
      I can’t wait to discuss Momaday. I’m struggling to be honest. Not that I don’t like it but he is a bit like Toni Morrison.

  3. This sounds good.

    The protagonist not knowing his own spouse and discovering truths after her death is an old premise, yet I find that it can be so interesting.

    I really need to read some Japanese authors.

  4. I am halfway through this novel right now, and like you, am intrigued with her death. Somehow the heart attack doesn’t seem completely natural…but, I will have to finish it, and then we can talk properly. Until then, I’m off to post your link. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing for the JLC10!

  5. I was away from blogs for a while and I seem to have missed a lot. This post is interesting. Thank you, Caroline.

    I haven’t read a lot of Japanese literature at all. Of course, I have read Haruki Murakami. I read Takashi Hiraide’s ‘The Guest Cat’ and shed a bucket of tears. I also loved Yoko Ogawa’s ‘The Housekeeper and The Professor’. 🙂

    • Thanks, Deepika. I’ve noticed your absence.
      I had no idea The Guest Cat was sad. I got it here. Thanks for the warning.
      I’ve read Murakami and Ogawa but my favourites are Banana Yoshimoto and Hiromi Kawakami.

  6. No Caroline, I didn’t get this one. Thanks for the mention.
    I didn’t see the Simenon connection either, so I’m glad to see I’m not the only one.
    In this book, I was interested to read about the ‘love hotels’. I’d never heard of them but since reading the book, I came across, accidentally, a few other mentions. Funny when things turn out that way.

    • Ok. Maybe it’s just a glitch. I’ll ask you again. My next post is due onTuesday for the readalong. If you don’t get that then I’ll have to look into it. Maybe you accidentally unsubscribed? Don’t get me wrong, you don’t gave to comment, of course but I thought The Bird Tribunal would gave interested you. And that was listed before my domain change.
      I think I’ve come across those hotels before in other Japanese novels. They are interesting. Yes, once you notice something . . .

      • There have been several times when for some reason my option for notification (not subscription) has been overridden. It usually takes me a few days to notice that I haven’t heard from a blogger for a while and then I have to go check and yes for some reason I’m not receiving notifications. It’s probably a wordpress upgrade or something.

  7. I read this recently and quite enjoyed it. Its pacing interested me most: a really slow burn and then a lot happening towards the end. Agree the Simenon comparison is odd. By the end, I was most reminded of Patricia Highsmith. And actually a bit of Kazuo Ishiguro: here too the narrator is subtly unreliable.

  8. One for the TBR/wishlist indeed. The Simenon thing sounds like marketing, perhaps an attempt to make him sound more familiar. It sounds very worthwhile however. I’m also now quite intrigued to know how it’s a crime novel…

  9. Pingback: Best Books I Read 2017 | Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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