Yurika is a freelancer in the Tokyo underworld. She poses as a prostitute, carefully targeting potential johns, selecting powerful and high-profile men. When she is alone with them, she drugs them and takes incriminating photos to sell for blackmail purposes. She knows very little about the organization she’s working for, and is perfectly satisfied with the arrangement, as long as it means she doesn’t have to reveal anything about her identity, either. She operates alone and lives a private, solitary life, doing her best to lock away painful memories.
But when a figure from Yurika’s past resurfaces, she realizes there is someone out there who knows all her secrets: her losses, her motivations, her every move. There are whispers of a crime lord named Kizaki—“a monster,” she is told—and Yurika finds herself trapped in a game of cat and mouse. Is she wily enough to escape one of the most sadistic men in Tokyo? – Amazon synopsis
In the author’s afterword, Nakamura writes:
“When I was working on The Thief, I thought I wanted to write not a sequel but a sister novel. Two novels where you could read either one first, or even just enjoy one on its own.”
The Thief (review here) is still one of my favourite crime novels and I continue to read the opening two pages in classes I teach and it never fails to amaze the kids with its visual description. Nobody writes crime quite like Nakamura – lean mean cuts-right-to-bone prose raising an icy character, caught in a slowly tightening vice-grip, to a pedestal of doom. Nakamura’s crime fiction narratives are never bound by the sage theme of good versus evil; his occupy an existential space where protagonists are anti-heroes existing in the dead space of tortured existence. His narratives aren’t romantic, but voluptuously seductive, as if there is poetry in one last hurrah against an evil so humongous that it blocks out the light.
Comparing The Kingdom to The Thief, I find the former weaker on a few aspects. Yurika is a character who is difficult to get behind with because her motivations are not fleshed out to a divine level unlike the pickpocket in the latter. There is an elegance to the pickpocket’s crime because the touch of a forbidden object is his last furtive touch with humanity, but Yurika’s crime of getting unsuspecting men in precarious compromising positions lacks irony. The narrative also moves mostly linearly with little guile, unlike The Thief which glides with uncanny ease to the pickpocket’s past which has full implications on his present actions. However, the evil mastermind here is well drawn to the point that I was shivering to the bone. His “despair has greater gravity than happiness” diatribe is spine-chilling and demented at the same time. Like Yurika, I was hypnotised and totally at the mercy of the Evil. Nakamura also doesn’t over-write, but I somehow wish there was more story here. Overall, I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy this Neo-noir mind trip.
On hind-thought, Nakamura might have dug himself a hole by saying The Kingdom is a sister novel to The Thief. That immediately begs for comparisons and it is almost a futile effort because The Thief holds such a venerable position for this book lover. If I were to read this on its own merit, I believe it would hit the spot.