A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto
Author Seicho Matsumoto, who died in 1992, was a prolific Japanese writer of some 450 works. He is lauded as being Japan’s version of Georges Simenon, writing a great number of mystery/crime novels. It seems that only four of these have been translated into English, and it is for this reason that A Quiet Place is worthy of the reader’s attention.
A Quiet Place would fit into the category of “Mystery/crime set within a bureaucracy”, where the Japanese civil service and Japanese society each set their own boundaries of etiquette, protocol, rules and regulations.
Asai is a mid-level civil servant within the Ministry of Agriculture. The story opens with the unexpected death of his younger, second wife, Eiko. She had a weak heart and died, not unexpectedly, of a heart attack. Asai doesn’t question why she died but does query why she was in a particular suburb at the time of her collapse. After an obligatory period of mourning, and with this burning question unanswered, he calmly and quietly interviews all of the witnesses at her death. More information comes from a private detective whom he hires, resulting in Asai realising that he didn’t know Eiko at all.
Asai confronts the key witness to Eiko’s death and strikes out only when his civil service tenure is threatened. The story’s ending is quite abrupt and it is a challenge to the reader to accept this situation. Aside from the ending, the story provides a good insight into the life of a Japanese civil servant and the impositions placed upon his personal life and family.