The Barnes & Noble Review
This mystery from critically acclaimed Japanese author Natsuo Kirino (after 2005's Edgar Award-nominated Out) revolves around the brutal murder of two Tokyo prostitutes. The unfathomably complex circumstances behind the killings, however, reveals startling insights into the unpleasant underpinnings of Japanese society…
It's been years since prostitutes Yuriko Hirata and Kazue Sato were murdered, but now Yuriko's unnamed older sister, who was also Kazue's classmate, is ready to share the girls' gruesome stories. How could two young women, both students at a prestigious high school, end up as prostitutes in the slums of Tokyo? Kazue was highly intelligent and self-motivated; Yuriko was "terrifyingly beautiful." Could the girls' deaths somehow be linked to Japan's hierarchal, ultra-competitive culture, or was it simply a matter of chance that they crossed paths with a sociopathic Chinese immigrant?
As the translations of more and more acclaimed foreign mystery writers (Sweden's Henning Mankell, Iceland's Arnaldur Indridason, et al.) find voracious audiences in the States, authors like Japan's Sujata Massey, Miyuki Miyabe, and Natsuo Kirino are not only supplying genre fans with exciting new narrative voices, unique themes, and innovative writing styles -- they are also providing invaluable insights into unfamiliar cultures and lifestyles. Kirino's Grotesque is one of those wonderful novels that not only entertains but also educates. Mystery fans with a taste for the exotic will absolutely devour this profoundly moving literary Japanese delicacy. Paul Goat Allen
This is the terrible paradox at the center of Kirino's work: In Japan, to be a monster, a grotesque, can be a kind of liberation. As she watches the trial of their accused murderer unfold, the narrator's malice turns into a kind of envy of the dead women, who in their sexual freedom flouted the society that rejected them. Grotesque is a powerful indictment of that society, its narrator's spirit "painted with hatred, dyed with bitterness." Kirino's women speak from beneath the lacquered surfaces of traditional Japan, in voices that need to be heard.
The Washington Post
Readers with a taste for ambiguity and oddball characters will enjoy this twisted novel of suspense from Japanese author Kirino (Out). The Apartment Serial Murders case, which involved the brutal killings of two Tokyo prostitutes, has gripped the country, leading to the arrest of a Chinese immigrant, Zhang Zhe-zhong, for the crimes. Strangely, Zhang freely admits to murdering the first victim, Yuriko Hirata, but denies the near-identical slaying 10 months later of Kazue Sato. The events leading to the killings are related from a variety of perspectives—that of Yuriko's unnamed older sister, bitterly jealous of her sibling's good looks; of each victim; and of the accused. Unusual connections—for example, Kazue was a classmate of the older sister—cast doubt on the veracity of individual narrators. This mesmerizing tale of betrayal reveals some sobering truths about Japan's social hierarchy. 4-city author tour. (Mar.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirino (Out) plumbs the murky depths of troubled women's minds with mixed results. The murder of two prostitutes, both of whom graduated from the same prestigious high school, has Tokyo abuzz with curiosity. The unnamed narrator, whose sister was one of the victims, tries to explain how the women could have met an untimely end, relying on her own reflections as well as the deceased's letters and diaries. The title is definitely apt, and readers who enjoy psychological horror tales might well relish the sordid revelations that serve as Kirino's critique of contemporary Japan. For many readers, however, the stream of ugliness (which includes high school bullying, eating disorders, and an entire phalanx of dysfunctional relatives) could grow wearying, as Kirino hammers home the effects at the cost of fully exploring the causes. Structurally, the novel is sound, but the characters' voices are nearly indistinguishable, and their speeches sometimes border on the didactic. The overall effect, while both ambitious and, yes, grotesque, is ultimately less satisfying than the author's previous work. An optional purchase for larger fiction collections.
Leigh Anne Vrabel
“Vengefully mesmerizing. . . . Kirino turns an unerring eye toward the vicious razors of the adolescent female mind.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Kirino helps us aficionados of crime fiction imagine the kind of novels James M. Cain might have written if he had been a Japanese feminist. . . . Emotionally harrowing.”
—Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air (NPR)
“A layered exploration of the human psyche, of the conflict inherent in need and desire, shame and humiliation. . . . A powerful study of people humbled at the altar of superficial values.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Kirino provides an energized thrill ride as she also examines the sometimes-stifling stranglehold of Japan’s social hierarchy, especially for women.” —Seattle Post-Intelligencer