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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Caring Man

Arai Akira

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Title: A Caring Man
Author: Arai Akira
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 350 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: A Caring Man - US
A Caring Man - UK
A Caring Man - Canada
A Caring Man - India
  • Japanese title: 慈しむ男
  • Translated by Marc Adler

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Our Assessment:

C : clumsy, too much that is implausible

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Early on in A Caring Man Tokyo Tower -- the Eiffel Tower-like Tokyo icon and important piece of broadcast infrastructure -- is brought down in a terrorist attack, and the fast-paced beginning suggests some sort of police procedural and/or cat-and-mouse-game-thriller -- but it is not to be. Arai shows little interest in the investigative details, and offers few: the police are barely even bumbling here, doing and accomplishing practically nothing, the investigation petering out without much fuss or attention. But then Arai doesn't seem to have put much thought into the plausibility of the attack in the first place, and so presumably feels more comfortable putting that incident behind him as quickly as possible: there is not even any explanation of how a sodium chlorate-based explosive could have been affixed, unnoticed, to the tower supports in sufficient quantities to topple it (apparently the perpetrators just filled the hollow steel supports with the explosive ... and apparently that could be accomplished without anyone noticing ...). He does, however, go on for a bit about the supposedly novel way the charges were detonated the charges, though it hardly seems that remarkable. Meanwhile, the police spend a lot of energy interviewing all the hotel guests who watched the tower topple (including hunting down the foreign guests who have already left for home), but don't seem to have access to (or interest in ?) any CCTV or security camera footage from the area from the time before the blast (like when the terrorists might have been transporting the explosives to the tower, and installing the devices ...).
       If not police procedural, there at least seems some hope for a psychological thriller of sorts to emerge here, as readers are made aware who the mastermind behind the attack is, and what motivates him -- and the fact that his: "dream is to kill as many people before I die", i.e. he still has big plans. The man in question is Yoshio Iizuka, the first infant dropped off in a newly set-up 'Stork's Mailbox' -- where parents could abandon an unwanted child -- at a hospital in 1991. The near-newborn was heavily scarred, having apparently been tortured by -- presumably -- its mother (who was, he's later convinced, a Louis Vuitton fan, since the "thousands of scars [...] were unmistakably drawn in imitation of the Louis Vuitton logo"). Very bright, he is raised in an orphanage, but leaves school as soon as he is able to -- i.e. doesn't even complete high school. And while to all outward appearances he's a well-adjusted, smart kid, he definitely has issues -- and in his teens: "the time had come for the embryonic demon that lay deep within to shuffle off its human residue and hatch at last."
       When he's barely twenty he sets his big plan in motion -- by founding a non-profit, the 'Society of Victims of Abuse for the Prevention of Abuse', which seeks to call attention to and prevent child abuse. This puts him into contact with lots of young, impressionable folks (mainly boys) who were abused -- and are particularly amenable to being brain-washed by Yoshio into getting revenge on society according to his plans.
       It's a concept with some potential, and Yoshio's cover-story is certainly a good one, but Arai doesn't do that much with it. There's a bit of terrorizing but, like the whole Tokyo Tower episode, not much comes of it. When it becomes known who is behind the attacks, the police again prove their complete incompetence by not being able to hunt Yoshio down -- which gives him time to plan his big coup. (The idea that the authorities would have missed all the clues as to what he was planning, and not have managed to find him -- especially once many of his followers reappear -- is preposterous.)
       Yoshio plans to go out with a big bang. For once (though only at the very last moment) the police more or less get their act together in trying to stop him, but even this dramatic face-off is dreadfully contrived, and the resolution anti-climactic.
       A Caring Man has many of the right elements, from the damaged psychopath killer to the independent but slightly vulnerable woman-figure (a photographer who gets mixed up in all this) to the sensational elements -- Tokyo Tower toppled ! suicide bombers ! chemicals in the hands of terrorists ! the cement floor of a storeroom, "bumpy from the twelve bodies buried under it"-- but makes a hash of them.
       Arai's background is apparently in film, and much of A Caring Man takes the movie-approach, where the realism of the images makes for plausibility -- you can see it ! -- and credibility only crumbles after the intense two-hour visual immersion; on the page credibility is harder to achieve, and Arai rarely does. (Obvious factual errors -- a 500,000 watt stun-gun ? wow ! (surely he means volts) -- don't help either.) The farcical portrayal of the police force also undermines the whole work -- making for lazy plotting in which Yoshio can just do pretty much as he pleases until the very end (and leaves one wondering why he doesn't do a lot more).
       The kind of police 'investigation' on display here is entirely unbelievable -- though it does make for numerous amusing moments and ideas, such as the Superintendent General's urge (not acted upon, unfortunately, though it would have been fun to know what would have happened if they had tried) to:

call for a cessation to all activity in Tokyo in order to conduct a top-to-bottom search for possible bombs planted in all large buildings.
       Given that these cartoon characters apparently didn't even notice anyone setting up explosives at Tokyo Tower it seems hard to believe they could even sniff out explosives planted in their own desks, much less in a single building, much less in all of Tokyo. And true to form, they have no clue as to how to find the twenty barrels of chemicals Yuichi got his hands on. A helpful tip finally gets them on the right course -- though it might have helped if the tipster had called in earlier (but, well, he: "wanted to know exactly what evil vision the criminal of the decade had in mind" before he gave him up ...). But then that's the kind of thriller A Caring Man is -- a thriller of convenience, which doesn't try too hard to put all the pieces together very well; the sensational pieces and 'dramatic' denouements are meant to be sufficient.
       A Caring Man is a manufactured thriller, clumsily painted by the numbers. The elements are all there, which makes for some interest, but it's not very well though-through, not very plausible, and the psychological insight is at a tabloid level.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 June 2011

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A Caring Man: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Arai Akira (荒井 曜) was born in 1956.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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