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The Kindness of Strangers


By Otsuichi 

16 Aug, 2017



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Otsiuchi’s 2002 Goth is a collection. Most of the English translation was done by Andrew Cunningham, although one section was translated by Jocelyne Allen. The Haikasoru edition was published in 2015.

Morbid, expressionless Morino was a loner until she recognized a kindred spirit in a fellow student (who, being the narrator, feels little need to name himself in these stories). The pair bond over their shared fascination with gruesome murders.

Morino is particularly valuable to her murder-obsessed friend because although she remains completely unaware of the fact, Morino attracts killers, just as rotting meat attracts flies. Pheromones?


Morino strikes gold when she stumbles across the diary of a local serial killer. Not only does it describe the killer’s crimes in horrific detail, the diary reveals a murder as yet undiscovered. How delicious! But it never occurs to Morino that her activities might bring her to the attention of the man who has already killed three times. When she vanishes, it’s up to her only friend to rescue her. Or it would be, if he were the rescuing kind rather than being coldly, dispassionately curious. More inclined to observe than interfere. 


Morino uses genre blindness as armour. She’s unaware how many close brushes with death she has had. She is blind to the full extent of her friend’s sociopathy. It’s a peculiar mindset, but it seems to work for her.


Morino’s friend deduces the identity of the maniac who has been roaming the town, cutting off his victims’ hands. Some people would have turned the fellow in to the police. The friend instead does his best to aim the culprit at Morino.


This story occurs before Morino befriended the narrator. Again, she has absolutely no clue about what was going on.


What would inspire someone to kidnap and kill pet dogs? Curiosity entangles the narrator in a grim tale of bloody vengeance.


The narrator prides himself in being a neutral observer, even after he intervenes to help the weaker of two opponents. His explanation why he did this is unconvincing but revealing. 


Plagued by insomnia, Morino asks her friend to help her find just the right sort of rope, which she plans to tie around her neck as a sleep aid. The right rope in important, for emotional and historical reasons (involving the peculiar circumstances of her identical sister’s death). Intrigued by the details Morino shares, her friend decides to investigate further.


Hey, Morino’s sister’s last words aren’t so different from those I uttered just before someone broke their gun on my head. What are the odds?

This is a town in which a competent therapist could do a lot of good. Of course, Morino would never seek out one on her own and her friend will never suggest it because he is only interested in observing pathology rather than doing anything about it. 


Saeki feels badly about his urge to bury people alive, but that does not stop him from doing it. His latest victim, a girl whose ID reads Morino,” is oddly confident that Saeki will be confounded in the end. Saeki does not see how this could possibly happen — the girl in the ground has no way to call for help — but then, he’s never met Morino’s friend. 


Natsumi’s only hope of hearing her sister’s final message to her is to allow her killer to hand the tapes to Natsumi in person. It’s an obvious trap but what choice does she have?


One Japanese edition split Goth into two parts. The author wrote afterwords for both. He won the Honkaku Mystery Award for his work, something that seems to have baffled the author. Much in his life seems to have delighted and astounded him. Good work if you can get it.

Bonus: Morino’s Souvenir Photo

Reports of a ghost lure a killer back to the scene of his crime. It is, of course, a trap laid by Morino’s friend, using the ever-unwitting Morino as bait.

General comments

My years of off-handedly tracking gender in various contexts meant I noticed that the victims in these stories were almost always women. In Japan, about 53% of homicide victims are women, so that’s an odd pattern. I should also note that Japan has a severe murder deficit (fewer per year than does underpopulated Canada, not to mention a much lower murder rate). The town in which these stories are set must be an extreme outlier. It’s not as implausible as the Wallander books (wherein Wallander investigates as many murders in his region as occur in all of Sweden) or as the Miss Marple mysteries, but it is a bit odd. Maybe there’s something in the water.

Readers looking for sympathetic characters might want to concentrate on Morino, who at least has a tragic backstory and an increasingly comedic inability to notice the carnage and horror that swirls around her. Her friend (whose name we eventually learn) is cold and remorseless, less appealing than Moffatt’s sociopathic version of Sherlock Holmes. To her credit, Morino knows exactly what her friend is like and values him for it. 

[Editor’s note: I am allergic to gore, mayhem, and gloom. James has convinced me that I would not touch this book with a ten-foot pole. Nor via a Polish basketball player.]

Goth is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).

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Please direct corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com.