I bought Seicho Matsumoto’s Points and Lines for a present for my mother (at the same time, I bought Flashman for my father; these were both bought at Capitol Hill Books and on the shelf where all the Flashman books are kept has an index card that reads: ‘Flash… Oh Oh…; in case you were not familiar with one of the achievements of western civilization, that is a reference to the movie Flash Gordon and the Queen penned and performed theme song).
I don’t know how I saw this particular book. I was looking in the M’s for something, but I don’t remember what it was that I was looking for.
It’s a very direct and unadorned mystery from the fifties and, in case the author’s name didn’t give it away, it takes place in Japan. The mystery itself centers on train timetables (and also other transportation timetables, but mostly trains). While never stated, I don’t think it’s stretch to say that ‘points’ are train stations and the ‘lines’ are the railroad tracks.
The novel opens with one seeming hero: an aging provincial policeman who can’t help but dig deeper into a seeming lovers’ suicide. But about one third of the way in, a younger policeman takes over. Each moves methodically. Even the dead ends are systematically examined.
The conclusion is disappointing. The author didn’t ‘earn’ the character who wound up playing an important role in the resolution. But it’s overall pretty darn satisfying. My mother is the real mystery buff (which is why I’ll eventually send it to her), but I’m capable of appreciating a fine genre exercise like this.
The book is pretty unemotional, except for the that older policeman who, in two startling moments, opens up. Early on, when getting home late, he eats dinner alone while his wife works on some knitting. When he asks her to have some tea with him after dinner and she declines, he barks at her at the next opportunity. Nothing violent or particularly cruel, but startling. Later, he writes a letter to the younger policeman, encouraging him to finish the case, but also admitting his own failures and disappointments.