A Caring Man is Akira Arai’s debut novel and his first book to be translated into English. The novel was brought to my attention primarily because it, along with Fumi Nakamura’s Enma the Immortal (which I absolutely loved), shared the inaugural Golden Elephant Award’s grand prize. A Caring Man and Enma the Immortal are two very different novels, but they are both engaging. Both novels were also released in English by Vertical. The purpose of the Golden Elephant Award was to “produce and publish promising entertainment stories in multiple languages in the global arena.” With that in mind, the jurors from the first award committee were from Japan, the United States, China, and Korea. It was this emphasis on global appeal that inspired Arai, who had previously worked in the music and film industries, to submit A Caring Man. After winning the award, the novel was simultaneously released in 2011 in Japanese and in English with a translation by Marc Adler.
On August 26, 2011, Japan fell victim to an unprecedented tragedy. Without any sort of warning, bombs strategically placed within Tokyo Tower were detonated, bringing the massive structure toppling down, killing and injuring a huge number of people. The special investigation team, a joint operation between the police force’s Criminal Investigation Department and the Public Security Bureau, is treating the incident as a terrorist attack. However, no group has emerged to claim responsibility for the bombing and the team quickly runs out of leads. There seems to be no concrete motive for the attack beyond a perverse desire to destroy for the sake of destroying. Mariko Amo is a freelance photographer working for scandal and gossip magazines who captured the fall of the tower on film, nearly losing her life in the process. Soon after she is given the opportunity to write a feature article on Yoshio Iizuka, a seemingly upstanding young man who recently established the Society of Victims of Abuse for the Prevention of Abuse. Little does she know that he is the very mastermind behind the Tokyo Tower attack.
A Caring Man deals with some very heavy subject matter. In addition to the attacks of terrorism and mass murder, personal killings and more intimate violence, such as child abuse, are also present in the novel. Yoshio himself was a victim of such abuse. Mutilated and abandoned as a newborn infant, he still carries scars on his body. He uses these and his story to gain empathy from others, employing his striking intelligence to manipulate them even further. Yoshio has an odd sort of intensity and charisma; he knows just what to say and how to act to exploit and control other people. A Caring Man, which takes its title from the characters used in Yoshio’s name, in part explores the mind and nature of a psychologically dark, twisted, and damaged young man. Yoshio’s plans are terrifying, and even more frightening is the fact that he has the abilities and influence needed to actually carry them out. The bombing of Tokyo Tower is only intended to be a dramatic prelude to even greater tragedies to come.
The story of A Caring Man is largely seen from three distinct perspectives, although they do intersect at various points in the novel when major players come into contact or become more deeply involved with one another. Those perspectives also reflect the prominent viewpoints of many modern-day crises. Yoshio and the cohort of young men aiding and in some cases nearly worshipping him form one faction as the perpetrators. The detectives, police, and other law enforcement officers are the investigators and protectors, while the third group consists of Mariko and other members of the media and press. They are the observers, chroniclers, and witnesses with the power to influence the opinions of the general public. Overall, A Caring Man is a well-written and engaging novel, particularly impressive as it is Arai’s debut. A few of the plot twists towards the end weren’t as believable or as effective as the rest of the novel, but otherwise A Caring Man is a solid crime thriller with an intense psychological component.