Deccan Chronicle

Book Review | Hefty and immersive, whydunit leaves questions in wake

Deccan Chronicle.| Rachna Chhabria

Published on: December 10, 2022 | Updated on: December 10, 2022
Cover photo of 'Lady Joker, Volume One' by Kaoru Takamura (Photo by arrangement)

Cover photo of 'Lady Joker, Volume One' by Kaoru Takamura (Photo by arrangement)

My eyes goggled at the size of the book. At 576 pages, Lady Joker by Kaoru Takamura is a big book and it is just the first volume.

The book starts with a letter written in June 1947 by Seiji Okamura, one of the 40 employees of Hinode Beer, who resigned in February, from the Kanagawa factory. In the long letter Okamura talks of his childhood, his adoption and how his former colleague Katsuichi Noguchi resigned several years earlier in 1942 under unfavorable circumstances. One can smell a stinky rat after reading the long letter. The reason I mention this letter in so much detail is because it plays a crucial role in the book, I think in the plot too. This letter rears its head, time and again, like a pesky pimple on one’s cheek.

Part one of the book takes place in 1990 and trust me when I tell you that its super slow. The first chapter is based in the Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchu. You will meet Seizo Monoi a pharmacy owner, Jun’ichi Nunokawa an ex-army man and his 12-year-old handicapped daughter, Shuhei Handa a police sergeant, Yokichi Matsudo and a couple of other men.

Seizo Monoi’s grandson Takayuki died in a car accident, if alive he would be working for Hinode Beer next spring.In the next chapter you meet Hiroyuki Hatano, a dentist, he is the father of the dead boy Takayuki and is Monoi’s son-in-law. The details in this chapter were like a dental torture. It’s Hatano who sets the wheels of the story in motion by sending a letter to Hinode Beer accusing them of discriminating against his son. In the letter he claims to be from the Buraku Liberation League.

After Hatano comes under scrutiny for sending Hinode Beer threatening and defamatory messages, he commits suicide. This leads Monoi and his motley bunch of racing enthusiasts, all disillusioned with the state of affairs in the country and generally disappointed with their own lives, to make a plan in 1994 to kidnap Kyosuke Shiroyama, the president and CEO of Hinode Beer and demand a high ransom. They call themselves the Lady Joker group.

They kidnap the president of the company in a daring heist just outside the front door of his house in spring 1995. There are no eyewitnesses. I wish readers were privy to the actual kidnapping. All that we know is that the kidnapping happened, because the man disappears and a note is found that we have your president.

The police and the media are doing a waiting game, wondering, when will the kidnappers send a ransom note? The readers too are doing the reading game wondering when there will be a surprise twist.

It comes in the form of Shiroyama who is set free after 56 hours with the condition that when he is contacted by the kidnappers sometime in the future, he must pay them a certain amount of money. At stake are the fortune and the reputation of the company and also the reader’s sanity.

There is also the link between Kyosuke Shiroyama’s niece Yoshiko who was dating Takayuki and wanted to live with him but her parents found out something about the boy’s background which Shiroyama wants to bury deep. It looked as though Shiroyama is guarding a cupboard full of skeletons.

The police and the media occupy much of the writing space, with journalists digging for news and the police trying to piece the giant jigsaw. Both suspect Hinode Beer of having some underworld connection and making a side deal with the kidnappers. The book ends with the kidnappers asking for the money.

The writing is decent, but the slow pace is a big letdown. This whydunit disappointed me, leaving me with many questions.

Lady Joker, Volume One

By Kaoru Takamura


pp. 576, Rs 599

About The Author

Rachna Chhabria is a Bengaluru-based children's author and a freelance writer

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