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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Point Zero

Matsumoto Seicho

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To purchase Point Zero

Title: Point Zero
Author: Matsumoto Seicho
Genre: Novel
Written: 1959 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 286 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Point Zero - US
Point Zero - UK
Point Zero - Canada
Le point zéro - France
Agenzia A - Italia
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: ゼロの焦点
  • Translated by Louise Heal Kawai

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Our Assessment:

B : quite well-done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 22/1/2024 Barry Forshaw

  From the Reviews:
  • "Congruent with the mystery narrative is a nuanced examination of the contrast between traditional and modern Japan, along with the legacy of the country’s military defeat during the second world war. Become acquainted with a crime master." - Barry Forshaw, Financial Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Set in 1958, Point Zero begins with twenty-six-year-old Teiko Itane getting married, to Kenichi Uhara, who is ten years her senior. He was a stranger to her, with a matchmaker making most of the arrangements. Teiko did wonder about his still being unmarried at that age -- "Still single at thirty-six. It makes you think something's going on there..." --, but she accepts the proposal, quits her job, and they get married.
       Kenichi works for the A— advertising agency, as the manager of the Hokuriku branch, and has been spending twenty days a month in Kanazawa City and ten days back in Tokyo, but he gets a promotion which will see him working in Tokyo full-time. He just has to make one more trip to Kanazawa after the honeymoon, to do the rounds of all his clients .....
       Teiko gets a postcard from Kenichi in which he writes he: "should be home on the twelfth", but the twelfth comes and goes and there's no sign of him. By the evening of the fourteenth someone from his company comes over, looking for news, as they've had no word from him either. The next day, they want to send someone to Kanazawa to investigate -- and invite Teiko to go along, which she does.
       Kenichi seems to have simply disappeared, and his trail is hard to follow. His older brother Sotaro also comes to Kanazawa -- though Teiko is a bit baffled by some of his actions --, and Honda, who is Kenichi's successor at work locally, also helps Teiko. Instead of answers, however, the bodies start piling up.
       Early on already, Teiko is certain: "Her husband had a secret. What was it ?" Trying to figure that out occupies much of her time. Among the few things that she thinks might be a clue are photographs of two houses -- which she is eventually able to identify. She also learns that before going into advertising Kenichi worked for the police, in the public morals division; as such, he dealt with the 'pan-pan girls' of the times -- "young women, mostly in their teens and early twenties, who dressed in American-style fashions and make-up and worked as prostitutes to the American soldiers".
       Unsurprisingly, Kenichi's past has to do with what happened to him -- and his wanting to start a new phase in his life, in a proper marriage and living full-time in Tokyo, set all this in motion .....
       Point Zero is notable for its focus on its female characters, the pro-active Teiko, in particular, but also, for example, Sachiko Murota, the wife of the president of a large local company that Kenichi did business with, -- "quite the local celebrity. Always calm and collected, yet, when she spoke, she was quick-witted, and her intelligence and education were apparent". Teiko proves very capable and intrepid; very little of the novel features her in the company of Kenichi, and so she practically never has to take a subservient or more docile role and instead she proves herself very much a determined, independent woman -- though also interacting with her in-laws, her mother, and those from Kenichi's workplace. The contrast between Tokyo and wintery Kanazawa is also effectively presented -- though there is a bit much traveling to and fro as Teiko follows up clues and goes to talk to people.
       The mystery itself is a bit convoluted, and while the bodies do pile up, it's mostly out of sight and doesn't really seem to affect many of the characters as much as one would expect murder to. But with its strong female lead and interesting slice of still-not-too-long-post-war Japan Point Zero is a solid novel and a good read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 March 2024

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Point Zero: Reviews: Other books by Matsumoto Seichō under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Matsumoto Seichō (松本清張) lived 1909 to 1992.

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© 2024 the complete review

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