cover image Devils in Daylight

Devils in Daylight

Junichiro Tanizaki, trans. from the Japanese by J. Keith Vincent. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2491-8

Originally published in 1918, this captivating short novel exemplifies why Tanizaki is considered an innovator of modern Japanese literature. After a sleepless night working on a manuscript for his editor, Takahashi receives a call from Sonomura, an old friend who suffers from an unspecified mental illness. Sonomura asks Takahashi to accompany him to witness a murder: having found and decoded a secret message, Sonomura believes he has determined the time and place a person will be killed. Sonomura’s wild speculations are validated when the pair arrives at the scene of a “quiet and seductive” crime. The mystery unfurls. As a reluctant accomplice to a wealthy madman whose mind has been corrupted by “moving pictures and crime novels,” Takahashi must defer to Sonomura’s judgment in order to navigate the dark corners of Taisho¯-period Tokyo. Takahashi becomes a fixture in a dubious plan to get closer to one of the suspected killers and possibly solve the disappearance of a missing Japanese nobleman, Viscount Matsumura. Vincent’s translation of Tanizaki’s work adopts a more formal style of speech common among affluent English speakers in the early 20th century. The voice and language are well suited for a narrative that frequently references works by Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. The prose is cunning and compelling, evoking classic Asian folklore and elements of Don Quixote. Readers are never entirely sure what to believe—the narrator is unreliable and often questions his own story. Is what Takahashi experiences delusion—has he contracted Sonomura’s illness? (Apr.)