A tense, powerful thriller from the bestselling author of Six Four
1985. Kazumasa Yuuki, a seasoned reporter at the North Kanto Times, runs a daily gauntlet of the power struggles and office politics that plague its newsroom. But when an air disaster of unprecedented scale occurs on the paper’s doorstep, its staff is united by an unimaginable horror and a once-in-a-lifetime scoop.
2003. Seventeen years later, Yuuki remembers the adrenaline-fueled, emotionally charged seven days that changed his and his colleagues’ lives. He does so while making good on a promise he made that fateful weekone that holds the key to its last solved mystery and represents Yuuki’s final, unconquered fear.
From Hideo Yokoyama, the celebrated author of Six Four, comes Seventeenan investigative thriller set amid the aftermath of disaster.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Born in 1957, Hideo Yokoyama worked for twelve years as an investigative reporter with a regional newspaper north of Tokyo before becoming one of Japan’s most acclaimed and bestselling fiction writers. Seventeen is his second novel to be translated into English.
Louise Heal Kawai comes from Manchester in the UK, but Japan has been her home since 1990. Her translations include Mieko Kawakami's Ms Ice Sandwich, A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto, and Seishi Yokomizo's The Honjin Murders, a Detective Kindaichi mystery.
Read an Excerpt
The wheels on the old-fashioned train clanked to a stop.
Doai Station on the Japan Railways Joetsu Line was in the far north tip of Gunma Prefecture. The platform was in a deep underground tunnel, with 486 steps to climb to reach daylight. Perhaps "scale" would have been a better word than "climb," given how much his legs were having to work. It was fair to say that the ascent of Mount Tanigawa began right here.
Kazumasa Yuuki began to feel pain as the tips of his toes pressed against his climbing boots. Pain-free, it would have been enough of a challenge to get to the top of the steps in one go. He reached the landing at the three hundredth step (the number was painted on it) and took a breather. He was struck by the same thought he'd had all those years before. He was being tested; maybe this was what separated the men from the boys. But if climbing stairs was enough to leave him out of breath, perhaps he didn't have what it took to make an assault on Devil's Mountain. Seventeen years ago, the excesses of a newspaper reporter's lifestyle had left him struggling for breath; now, his fifty-seven years on this earth were taking their toll on his heart rate.
He was going to climb the Tsuitate rock face.
He felt his determination beginning to waver, but Kyoichiro Anzai's twinkling eyes were still there in the back of his mind. He could still hear him, too — particularly one phrase that the veteran rock climber had casually dropped into conversation: "I climb up to step down."
Yuuki raised his head and began once again to climb the stairs.
"I climb up to step down." He had always wondered about the meaning of this riddle. He believed he had the solution, but the only person who knew the definitive answer wasn't around anymore to ask.
Ground level at last. He stood a moment, bathed in the gentle early autumn sunshine. It had just turned two in the afternoon, and the wind felt a little cold on his cheek. Takasaki City, farther south in Gunma Prefecture, where Yuuki had lived most of his life, was nothing like this. The temperature and the way the air smelled were completely different here.
He set off walking north along Route 291, leaving the red, pointed roof of the station building behind him. He passed over a level crossing, through a snow-break tunnel, and then, on his right, was a large swath of lawn. Doai Cemetery.
He glanced at the monument put up by the local people of the village of Minakami. It bore the names of all 779 climbers who had lost their lives on Mount Tanigawa. The nickname Devil's Mountain only began to convey its gruesome history. Other popular nicknames were Gravestone Mountain or Man-Eating Mountain. It was part of a two-thousand-meter mountain range, and nowhere on earth was there a deadlier peak. One reason was its location. It marked the border between two prefectures, and the weather there was notorious for changing with no warning; the results were often fatal. But the real reasons for Mount Tanigawa's reputation were its infamous vertical rock faces.
It was all about being the first to conquer an unclimbed rock face, and rivalry was fierce. In the early days, the most extreme climbers poured into this area like a tsunami, craving the challenge and the kudos. When the underground station was first built, they used to run at full speed up all 486 steps. Every minute — every second — counted in the competition to scale the rock walls. They climbed with abandon, and fell with the same abandon. The more the word went around that Tanigawa was a treacherously difficult mountain, the more adrenaline-pumped these young, passionate climbers became, and the list of names on the monument grew longer.
But one of the Ichinokurasawa rock faces, Tsuitate, remained unconquered; for years it had been among rock climbers a synonym for "impossible" or "the ultimate challenge." As time passed, equipment was improved,climbing skills became more sophisticated, and a dozen or so climbing routes were marked out on the Tsuitate face. Needless to say, it took the sacrifice of many more lives to accomplish this.
The Worst of the Worst — the nickname given to Tsuitate.
"Hey, Yuu. Let's take a shot at Tsuitate!"
Anzai had brought Yuuki to check out the Tsuitate face. It was Anzai, too, who had taught Yuuki everything he knew about climbing. Seventeen years ago, Yuuki and Anzai were supposed to have attached their climbing ropes and made their assault on the mountain.
But their plans had been thwarted. The night before they were due to set out, a Japan Airlines jumbo jet had crashed into the mountains near Uenomura, Gunma Prefecture. In an instant, 520 lives were lost. Yuuki had been put in charge of coverage of the crash at the local North Kanto Times, so, as it turned out, he'd done battle with a completely different "Gravestone Mountain."
And Anzai — Sensing activity ahead, Yuuki looked up to see that he had almost reached the Doaiguchi ropeway terminal. The square in front of the station and the nearby parking lot were bustling with day-trippers. Ignoring the souvenir stalls, he continued along the old road until he spotted the Climbing Information Center. He glanced at his watch. It wasn't quite three o'clock. He had a little time to wait, so he sat down on one of the benches inside. He was approached by a cheerful-looking man wearing an armband that identified him as a guide.
"Hello there. Which route are you planning to take?" "We're going to set up camp at Ichinokurasawa, then climb the Tsuitate face tomorrow."
As he spoke, Yuuki unzipped his waist pouch and produced his climbing permit. He'd submitted his application by mail about ten days previously, and it had been returned to him approved and stamped.
"Tsuitate, huh?" the guide muttered, looking down at the permit. The first thing he must have spotted was Yuuki's age. Then the section giving details of his experience raised an eyebrow. In preparation for this ascent, Yuuki had been rock climbing many times at the Haruna and Myogi ski resorts, but he had no serious climbing experience under his belt. The guide was finding it increasingly difficult to maintain his cheerful expression, but just as he was about to say something, a tall young man walked through the door and greeted Yuuki with a bow.
"I'm sorry I'm late."
"What, you're young Anzai's climbing buddy?" said the guide, his tone softening. Any trace of his earlier anxiety vanished, and he stood up and left.
Yuuki gave a wry smile, and the young ace of the local mountaineering club flashed him a grin in return.
When Rintaro Anzai smiled, he was the embodiment of youth. It was hard to believe he had already turned thirty. He'd inherited his father's large, twinkling eyes, but his shyness and modesty had come from his mother. Anzai senior had once confided in Yuuki that his son was supposed to have been named Rentaro, not Rintaro. If you'd put his family name and the first part of his given name together (Anzai Ren) it would have sounded like the German anseilen, which, in the climbing world, means tying on the rope.
"But the wife saw through that one right away," he'd said wistfully.
"Yuuki-san, any news of Jun?" Rintaro asked.
"I haven't managed to get in touch with him."
Yuuki couldn't look Rintaro in the eyes. His son, Jun, had an apartment in Tokyo. Yuuki had left a message on his voice mail to let him know about today's plan, but Jun hadn't called back.
"So it'll be just the two of us. That was the plan in the first place, anyway."
"All right. So how shall we do this? We could stay the night here, if you like?"
"No, I'd prefer to get up to where the rivers meet at Ichinokurasawa and pitch the tents. It's been so long. I'm looking forward to seeing it again."
Rintaro nodded, clearly pleased by Yuuki's enthusiastic response, and started to check the equipment.
Yuuki watched him in admiration. He'd known Rintaro since he was thirteen years old. The boy had grown up into a sturdy young man, both physically and mentally. Most important, he'd been raised to be kind and honest.
Two months ago, Rintaro had been standing alone in the parking lot of a funeral hall in Maebashi. He was silently watching the trail of smoke rising from the square chimney of the crematorium. His eyes were wet but he didn't let himself cry. Yuuki had come up and patted him on the shoulder.
"Looks like Dad headed north after all," Rintaro had mumbled, still looking up at the sky.
"Great. Let's go."
They left the information center and set out along the shaded, zigzagging trail. The slope was still gentle. The tall beech woods that lined the route made the air seem dense. There was a noise in the undergrowth, and a wild monkey warily crossed the trail ahead of them.
Rintaro walked ahead in silence and Yuuki simply followed. After a while, they arrived at the Ichinokurasawa intersection. Immediately Yuuki realized that his memory had failed him. Back then the rock face had taken him by surprise, appearing out of nowhere. All that had stuck in his mind was the impact of that moment.
He was caught off guard again today. Rintaro, walking in the middle of the track, suddenly moved over to the right, opening up the view for Yuuki. He caught his breath and stopped dead.
A fortress of rock towered darkly before him. It was still quite far off, but overwhelming, looming over everything else in his field of vision. The ridge cut a straight line through the air, leaving nothing but a narrow sliver of sky above. It wasn't what he'd call a magnificent view; it was too oppressive for that. Ichinokurasawa wouldn't let mere mortals in. Yuuki was struck by the thought that Nature had constructed this rampart for that very purpose.
Tsuitate. It stood there, the main gate protecting these giant castle walls. A painfully sharp vertical rock face like a hanging screen or a wall. It looked as if it had been folded vertically over and over, producing a series of overhangs, or "roofs." The rock itself had a brutal countenance, worthy of its nickname the Worst of the Worst.
Yuuki gave voice to his misgivings. "I don't know if I can do this."
Rintaro's response was brief. "Sure you can."
The younger man set off down toward the dry riverbed, presumably searching for a good location to pitch their tents. But Yuuki couldn't move. His body was seized by the fear he'd felt almost two decades before.
And that time they'd only been checking out the climbing route. This time they were actually doing it.
The two Gravestone Mountains merged in his mind. He felt the same excitement as seventeen years ago rush through him.
It had been a plane crash of unprecedented proportions. An out-of-control Japan Airlines plane, Flight 123, had strayed into Gunma Prefecture. Yuuki had also changed course that day. He'd been drifting along, leading a life that was not healthy for him, not making any effort to improve it. But the monotony of his daily routine had been turned completely upside down by that accident. Those seven days on the newsroom floor, dealing with something huge. Every agonizing minute that ticked by had brought a new self-awareness and, consequently, his life had veered off on another course.
Yuuki looked up at the Tsuitate face defiantly.
Elevation: 330 meters — I'm going to haul myself up a vertical cliff face the height of Tokyo Tower.
"I climb up to step down."
He could see the look in Anzai's eyes. Months before, even with his body covered in tubes, held captive in a bed, his eyes had twinkled.
He'd climbed this, Kyoichiro Anzai. Suddenly Yuuki's vision blurred. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and slowly exhaled. He listened once again to Anzai's voice in his head. Yuuki had to climb the mountain. He needed to know what these last seventeen years had been about.
August 12, 1985. That was the day it had all started.CHAPTER 2
Even early in the morning, the heat was oppressive.
Yuuki had spent the start of his working day at the home of an ex-soldier in the outskirts of Takasaki City. He was gathering material for a ten-part series the paper was running: "Forty Years after the War: Stories from Gunma." It had been published daily since August 6, and the final installment was due to appear on the fifteenth, the anniversary of the end of the Second World War. However, Aoki, the political correspondent assigned to write the final article, had suddenly been called away to the Tokyo office, and the job of collecting the material for the story had fallen to Yuuki.
In the provinces, the rush to get out of the city to visit family homes for the Obon holidays was supposedly under way, but in Nagatacho, where the central government buildings were located, it was business as usual. Japan's prime minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone, had decided to pay an official visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honored Japan's war dead. Such visits had become controversial, ever since 1979, when it had come to light that Yasukuni Shrine held the ashes of fourteen Class A Second World War criminals. It looked as if the format of the visit was going to be decided today, the twelfth. Calling from Tokyo the previous night, Aoki had sounded excited about being in the capital, competing with journalists from the whole of Japan. He'd forgotten to thank the senior reporter for covering for him.
Yuuki drove toward Maebashi City. It was the monthly commemoration of the death of Ryota Mochizuki, who had been a junior reporter at the newspaper, and after paying his respects at Mochizuki's grave, he headed back to work. It was lunchtime when he arrived, but he didn't feel hungry. He decided to forgo the basement cafeteria and go directly to the main office of the second- floor Editorial Department, the newsroom. The North Kanto Times didn't produce an evening edition, so there were few people there this time of day. Fortunately, it seemed that the air conditioner had been on full blast since the morning. The heat outside now was beyond description. In the short time it had taken him to hurry from the parking lot on the other side of the street into the office, his shirt was soaked with sweat and sticking to his back.
"Hello. NKT here."
The first thing he heard was the cheerful tone of Yoshii in the copy team, from the farthest desk. The call was from a reporter covering this year's Koshien — the national senior high school baseball tournament — and they seemed to be having a lively chat about it. Yuuki had always worked on local news and didn't know much about sports, but it sounded as if the team representing Gunma Prefecture, Nodai Niko High, was doing well. They'd won the first-round game in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off home run, and the paper had just dispatched an extra reporter and photographer to cover their second-round match.
Turning his face full-on to the chilled breeze of the air conditioner, Yuuki reflected on what had just happened at the cemetery. As he was leaving, he had run into Mochizuki's parents, carrying flowers, which of course was unsurprising. They had bowed politely to one another and continued in their separate directions, but the young woman accompanying them had turned up her nose and glared defiantly at Yuuki. She looked to be in her late teens, and Yuuki had the vague feeling he had seen her before. If it was the girl in the school uniform he'd seen at the funeral five years earlier, it would be Mochizuki's cousin. He wasn't sure if her own memories of the events had caused her to react to him that way, or if perhaps the parents, who had lost their only son, had expressed their resentment of Yuuki to other members of the family. Yuuki had wondered about this the whole drive back.
It was the laid-back voice of Kamejima, the chief copy editor, coming over to take advantage of the cool breeze, too. His round moon face was sweating heavily. Everyone called him Kaku-san, but not because of his resemblance to the anime character of the same name, or because his name began with the sound "ka." It was a play on the word for "write": in kanji, the characters of his name had the most strokes, and therefore took the longest to write, of anyone's in the office. It went without saying that the creator of this nickname was a member of the proofreading team.
"It's fucking sweltering!" Kamejima pulled his shirt collar away from his neck and leaned forward to let in the cool air from the unit. The toothpick he was chewing told Yuuki that he hadn't just arrived at the office. He'd been in early and had just returned from the cafeteria.
"Kaku-san, anything happen today?"
"Yeah. Early this morning there was a development in the Glico Morinaga case."
Yuuki had asked only as part of a perfunctory greeting, so this was a complete surprise.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Seventeen"
Copyright © 2003 Hideo Yokoyama.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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