Penance by Kanae Minato, translated by Philip Gabriel [in Library Journal]
Kanae Minato is two for two for twisted psychological Japanese noir. What she did with deadly milk cartons in Confessions made quite the debut splash. She goes back to school in Penance (expertly rendered into English by lauded translator Philip Gabriel) in which 10-year-old Emily is raped and murdered on school grounds.
The four friends who find her corpse are expectedly traumatized – but three years later, any semblance of recovery is irreparably destroyed when Emily’s mother invites the quartet for tea and fancy cakes, only to threaten the girls: find Emily’s murderer before the 15-year-statute of limitations or risk revenge – “I’ll make you suffer far worse than Emily ever did.” Twelve years pass, the 15-year expiry looms, and the girls – now young women – reveal the horrifying penance they’ve each performed.
From nightmare to nightmare, narrator Karissa Vacker aptly retains tight control throughout. Her youthful voice initially works well when the characters are still young but tends toward an immature pitch as they age. That she clearly doesn’t speak Japanese further mars her presentation.
Verdict: As Japanese thrillers in translation continue to gain international acclaim – led by Keigo Higashino, Fuminori Nakamura, and Natsuo Kirino – libraries will want to provide multi-format options.
Review: modified from “Audio,” Library Journal, December 1, 2017
Published: 2012 (Japan), 2017 (United States)