All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe

all she was worth

All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe
Translated by Alfred Birnbaum
Kodansha International, 1996
Originally published as Kasha, 1992
I borrowed the book from the library.

It took quite awhile for me to find a translated crime novel from Asia I’d like to finish for the Global Reading Challenge– a problem I ran into last year as well. First of all, there aren’t so many crime novels written by Asians that are translated into English. Secondly, I tried a few novels I just wasn’t in the mood to read because their tone was too noir (Yoshida) or or something I can’t quite label (Higashino).

Despite the very disturbing cover, I liked this book. The story centers on a missing persons case: injured and recuperating police detective Honma investigates his cousin’s son’s fiancee’s disappearance, and the story revolves around overextended consumer borrowers who are harrassed by legal and yakuza bill collectors. From the description, the cover image seems a little on-the-nose.

The story is a bit slow and the plot relies a bit heavily on coincidences, complaints I feel like I make with other missing-persons novels, but Honma is an engaging character. Since he’s on leave from the police department, the book doesn’t get into office dynamics and instead focuses on his homelife with his young son and nanny (he was widowed a few years before the novel takes place).

Two aspects of the story make it feel particularly Japanese, one major and one minor: first is the background of the Consumer Finance Scare of the 1980’s, and second is Honma’s reliance on bullet trains. The easy credit part of the story is crucial to the missing persons case, and it sounds an awful lot like the housing bubble of the 2000’s. And the existence of bullet trains and the communities that grow around them stands out for me since I live in a part of the world without widespread train service.

Finally, I want to include the funniest bit from Miyabe’s author bio, “In her spare time, she enjoys playing video games and singing karaoke.” It reads a little like,”Authors: they’re just like us!”

Other reviews appear in Complete Review, Petrona, and Black Plume.



13 thoughts on “All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe

  1. Rebecca – I’m always looking for new-to-me Asian crime writers whose work’s been translated into English. Thanks for sharing this one. It certainly sounds worth a read, and I agree; that author bio is great!

  2. This is one my husband liked, and I can borrow it from him. Which I will do some day. He is the one in my family more into Asian fiction. Nice review. The area I haven’t covered yet (for the global challenge) is Central or South America and I hope to get to one of my Brazilian authors before the end of the year.

    • Good luck, Tracy! I have just Australia left to finish for the challenge, and I’m pretty sure I have some books on my Kindle that will fit the bill. What Asian authors does your husband recommend? Miyabe has a lot of work available in English, but some is fantasy and some seems like it’s more for children– or at least that’s what’s available through my library system.

      • Let’s see. He did like the first two books by Keigo Higashino, which were mentioned by Keishon. I have only read Devotion of Suspect X and enjoyed it. He liked the Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada. He liked The Tattoo Murder Case, a vintage mystery by Akimitsu Takagi. It is a locked room mystery and I did not like it as well as he did. He tried Out by Natsuo Kirino but did not finish it. I may try it. All of those are Japanese authors and he prefers those.

        He read Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong but did not like it. He passed that book and 5 others by that author on to me. So I hope I like them. The books are written in English and the author lives in the US now, but he was born in China.

  3. It does show its age a little, but it’s still an interesting read (and does have parallels to the consumer bubble in the West). The pace, as you say, is more leisurely, almost reminiscent of a Golden Age novel, and I like the gentle Inspecor Honma. Many of the Japanese crime novels are rather dark, although I do recommend Yoshida’s ‘Villain’ and ‘The Thief’ by Fuminori Nakamura. They are sad but not quite as disturbing as some others.

    • Thank you for the recommendations, MarinaSofia. I did read The Thief a couple years ago but haven’t read the follow-up that was released a year later: I’ll have to look for it.

  4. So glad you read this one. I’ve been interested in reading her work for the longest. I can’t find them around here and haven’t tried the library yet. As for other Asian crime writers, I’m reading Malice by Keigo Higashino. I enjoyed his first book, The Devotion of Suspect X bu didn’t finish his second one but will give it another go, The Salvation of a Saint. He writes inverted mysteries. Also, I have enjoyed Villain by Shuichi Yoshida (reads more like crime noir). This is an area I’m interested in reading too.

    • I had a copy of Suspect X before I moved over a year ago and haven’t found it since then: I will try to find another copy– thanks for the recommendations.

  5. I liked this book very much and passed it on to friends. I think I read the author’s second book in the series but it wasn’t as noteworthy.

    I did like The Devotion of Suspect X and the one after that Salvation of a Saint.
    I think the author must be a follower of Sherlock Holmes. Every detail in a crime scene is examined in a scientific way. With Salvation of a Saint, I kept looking for clues and
    was convinced I had found an important one, which I had. But the investigation goes
    into great detail in the “howdunnit” and it was fascinating, very scientific, yet human.

    I would not recommend “Out,” which I read and was horrified. It mixed brutal
    violence and sexuality in a terrible way. Japanese women’s organizations condemned
    it. I haven’t read any books by that author since then, and I frankly don’t even like
    to think about parts of it.
    But one thing is that it’s educational about the roles of women in Japan that are
    oppressive and stultifying and can drive women to extreme measures. Also, it
    gives a feel for assembly line production which was quite realistic, and again
    reflects the oppressiveness of it.
    So there are good points in the book, but I wish the author hadn’t mixed in
    what she did that soured it for me.

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