Cybercrimes that take advantage of the global connectivity provided by computers, smartphones, and the Internet are on the rise. Focusing on an investigator in a specialized cybercrime unit, this suspense novel is a new kind of police procedural for the digital age.
The time is set in the near future, not long after Japan’s “My Number” citizen ID system—implemented in 2016 for taxation, social security, disaster response, and other administrative uses—has gone into effect. Hideto Manda, 43, is a police inspector in the Kyoto Prefectural Police Cybercrime Unit. The story begins with the release from detention of network engineer Osamu Budai, the defendant in a case Manda investigated. Budai had been indicted on charges of authoring and distributing the “XP Virus,” which allowed foreign cybercriminals to gain control of some three million Windows PCs. For two years, as Budai himself adamantly refused to confess to the crime, his lawyer Kaori Akase had countered the prosecutors’ circumstantial case with proof of Budai’s innocence found in their own data, prevailing in one court proceeding after another and finally winning an order for her client’s release. But is Budai truly innocent?
Two years later, on September 6, a number of media outlets receive an email with a photo of a severed thumb attached. The message claims that the thumb is that of Tōi Tsukioka, who has been kidnapped. Tsukioka is an engineer engaged in developing a visitor-tracking system for a major new public complex named Composita under construction in Shiga, Kyoto’s neighboring prefecture. The message denounces the complex and demands an immediate halt to construction. Two days later, the thumb is delivered to the Shiga Prefectural Police, and over the next ten days or so an index finger and middle finger also arrive. A forensic examination of the digits concludes that Tsukioka must be dead, and the investigation proceeds as a kidnap-murder case.
Heading it up is Yuzuru Sawaki, formerly of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Wanting the IT expertise of his old friend Manda, Sawaki gets him on loan from the Kyoto Police and orders him to probe Budai, from whose address the kidnap email had been sent. With the XP Virus case still unsolved, some voices within the police department are eager to finger Budai for the kidnap-murder. When Manda and Budai meet for the first time in two years, Budai has changed his appearance with cosmetic surgery, and though he had been reduced nearly to skin and bones at the time of his release, he now has the physique of a hardened warrior trained in the martial arts. Having lost his job because of the false charges, and having had all his private data aired in public as well, he has become extremely jittery about using the Internet, refuses to use credit cards, and obsessively steers clear of outdoor surveillance cameras. Manda pursues the eccentric man and the difficult case with a certain degree of skepticism.
The Composita development proves indeed to be at the center of the case. Though the city of Ōtsu is the builder, the complex is slated to be managed by a private company once it is completed. The size of four baseball fields, with three floors above ground and one below, it will include a new city hall, a public library, a general hospital, a fitness club, and an indoor exercise park. The project is being spearheaded by mayor Naoto Handa, whose career prior to running for office included stints with the police department and with the public prosecutor’s office. He has colluded with former colleagues Shiga Prefectural Police Chief Sakamaki and Kyoto Police Cybercrime Unit Head Jōishi, Manda’s boss, to have a secret surveillance system installed at the complex. The management company has contracted with major DVD and book merchant TAC, one of the largest loyalty card issuers in the country, and Altech, a surveillance camera installer with a massive facial recognition database, to build a system that will automatically gather personalized user information and track user activity to pass on to the city.
As construction falls more than six months behind schedule due to poor-quality and poorly-paid subcontractors as well as meddling by Handa, Tsukioka realizes the full reach and purpose of the system he is helping to build. In an unfortunate turn of events, he then crashes his car while driving under the influence, and injures his right arm so badly that it must be amputated. After getting a friend from work to help him with it, he goes into hiding and begins severing fingers from the amputated hand in an effort to stop the Composita project. Though still alive at the time the police concluded he was dead, he is subsequently murdered by a network engineer named Tamotsu Moriya who goes by the Chinese alias of Liu. Moriya is ostensibly a big data consultant, but he is also the actual mastermind behind the XP Virus, which at its peak had put a trove of private information on some 60 million users in his hands. As the story comes to a close we learn further that Moriya is in fact an agent of the Chinese government. Sawaki arrests the mayor and his two collaborators, but Moriya manages to give him the slip and flee overseas. Budai follows in hot pursuit, determined to extract his revenge.
Author Taiyō Fujii was himself a software developer until quite recently, and he brings his extensive knowledge and experience to bear in fleshing out the highly realistic and highly believable detail with which he deftly builds the suspense—a suspense that is amplified by the sense that something very much like this could happen in real life at almost any moment.