Monologue of a Universal Transverse Mercator Projection by Yumeaki Hirayama from Hanzai Japan

hanzai japanreviewed by Patti Abbott

Yumeaki Hirayama’s debut as a novelist came in 1996 with the psycho-thriller Sinker—shizumu mono (Sinker). In 2006 he won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Short Stories with Dokuhaku suru yunibasaru yoko merukatoru (The Universal Transverse Mercator Speaks), and his collection of the same title took first place in the 2007 Konomys rankings. He won the Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize in 2009, and the Haruhiko Oyabu Award in 2011, for his noir novel Diner, set in a restaurant where professional hit men gather. Among his other works is the 2011 story collection An Outsider’s Death (original English title).

Hirayama’s story in HANZAI JAPAN, “Monologue of a Universal Transverse Mercator Projection” looks to be related to his prize -winning collection. The anthology’s goal was to collect stories that managed to be both speculative and crime-oriented. The introduction advises us that Japanese crime writers enjoyed subverting the genre from the earliest days. And the combination here makes the likelihood even greater. The use of the supernatural adds some nice seasoning to crime stories. And a crime can provide a fulcrum to science fiction.

In this story, the protagonist is a map. Though given the nature of the collection you might expect this to be a futuristic global navigations system, instead it is an ordinary paper map. Ordinary in appearance, that is. But this map has the ability through inner maps to perform some supernatural guidance for its owner, a taxi driver. It can rearrange itself to provide a route to suit a need. This anthromorphized map functions as a sidekick.

Crime enters the tale when the taxi driver begins murdering then hiding the bodies of female passengers. The map makes himself an accomplice by finding burial sites that will go undetected. When the master (as the map calls him) dies, the story only grows more complex.

It is impossible not to admire this story. The abilities of the map have been laid out with great imagination and care. The consistency of the idea is thrilling. The murders take place off screen and are of much less interest than the relationship that exists between the map and the taxi driver(s). Highly recommended for fans of superb writing.

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