Junko Aoki has the gift of pyrokinesis: she can set anything on fire with her energy. When she retreats to an abandoned factory to displace some of her energy into a huge pool of water there she inadvertently witnesses a murder.

The Asaba gang has kidnapped a woman and killed her date; they are trying to throw his body into the pool of water so that it won’t be detected.

Junko is so incensed at what she sees that she kills three of the gang members by burning them, and as the leader escapes she promises herself that she will seek to destroy him as well.

A parallel part of the story tells of Chikako Ishizu, the only woman in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, who seeks the person who is setting these fires as well as burning criminals.

A third strand tells of the Guardians, a special group which made me think of the Mob in a way: they have taken it upon themselves to “deliver justice” and formed a band of members with special abilities who also try to do away with criminals. The Guardians woo Junko into their midst, luring her with gifts and the promise of love from one of its members until they become disenchanted with the way Junko makes her gift too well known.

There are several fascinating aspects to this story:

  • the whole idea of pyrokinesis (and other abilities such as telekinesis)
  • the loneliness of those who are set apart by their gifts or hidden talents
  • the way families are effected by those with such gifts
  • the question of justice

When we discover that the crossfire is between the victim and the criminal, between the law and those who have taken it upon themselves to deliver justice, we’re faced with two critical questions:
Does anyone have the right to kill another?
Is there ever a right reason to take a life?
I found this book profound on many levels, not only as a mystery/thriller, but also a treatise on ethics. It was excellent.

Crossfire was written by Miyuki Miyabe who “was born in downtown Tokyo and worked in a law office before becoming a full-time writer. She is the recipient of numerous literary prizes, including Japan’s most prestigious award for popular literature, the Naoki Prize. She is the author of All She Was Worth, Shadow Family, and The Devil’s Whipser. Crossfire was a major bestseller in Japan and has been adapted to film.” (from the back cover of the book published by Kodansha International)

All She Was Worth

Title: All She Was Worth

Author: Miyuki Miyabe
Publisher: Mariner
Number of pages: 296
Genre: Crime Fiction/Mystery
Awards: Best Novel of the Year and Best Mystery for 1992 in Japan
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
When police inspector, Honma, is asked by his nephew (Jun) to investigate the disappearance of Jun’s fiance, he has no idea that he will be enmeshed in an enormous tangle of deception and woe.
Apparently, the fiance has had her identity stolen by a beautiful girl who must escape a life of desperation which is brought upon her by enormous financial distress.
I found it terribly ironic to read such a novel considering the economic struggles America is currently suffering:
“Honma could well imagine the vicious circle the Shinjo family had been caught up in. A small down payment and a large loan. Then, when things got tight, a second loan, for a smaller amount, this time from a loan shark. That set the pinball rolling, picking up speed, than going too fast for anybody to stop. Finally, they came up against one of those operations that charge ten percent interest every ten days, a front for the yakuza-all the debts had fallen into their hands, apparently.” (p. 231)

Every country has people who want the best, and want it now, regardless of their ability to pay for it. Credit card debt, mortgages much higher than the property is worth given to families who cannot afford them…these very issues are raised in this novel which not only examines a murder mystery but Japan’s contemporary life. Which is not so very different from America’s.
With this important exception: in Japan, the creditors hunt you down. Until the hunted become the hunters as they are in this crime thriller.

Also reviewed by Tanabata.