Published in Japan in 2013; published in translation by Soho Press on October 21, 2014
The crime novels of Fuminori Nakamura explore the psychology of the criminal mind while making the point that the criminal mind is difficult to distinguish from the noncriminal mind. Guilt is often a fluid and ambiguous concept, easily shared and spread, not always understood by those who refuse to look beyond the superficial.
Yudai Kiharazaka, a photographer, has been sentenced to death for the murders of two women who were incinerated in separate fires. The narrator of Last Winter, We Parted has been commissioned to write a book about the murderer. Some people the narrator interviews speculate that Kiharazaka burned the women so that he could photograph them in flames, thus replaying a version of the climactic scene in a classic Japanese short story called "Hell Screen."
The narrator begins his project after becoming fixated on a photograph Kiharazaka took of black butterflies obscuring a figure that might be a woman. He is also drawn to Kiharazaka's obsession with lifelike silicon dolls that are patterned on real women, an obsession shared by a group known as K2.
Some chapters of Last Winter, We Parted consist of Kiharazaka's letters to the narrator and to his sister. Some chapters relate the narrator's interviews with people who knew Kihirazaka, each adding insight to his life while prompting the reader to question what really happened. Some chapters follow the narrator's introspective life as he decides what to do about Yukie, his girlfriend. The narrator becomes uncomfortably involved with both Kiharazaka and his sister while coming to understand their true nature ... and his own.
Last Winter, We Parted is a short but complex novel. The truth about the two deaths is surprising and complicity is found in unexpected places. This is the kind of novel that needs to be read in its entirety before all of the parts can be understood and integrated. Some chapters require reinterpretation by the story's end, while the ending gives the reader a new understanding of the entire book, including the dedication. The novel's brevity and tight construction make all of that possible without placing an undue burden on the reader.
Last Winter, We Parted also considers the relationship of art to the living and the dead, as well as the reality that the art of fiction can inspire. This is a work of philosophy and psychology as much as it is a crime novel, yet the mystery that unfolds is riveting. Near the end, a character asks "Just what does it all mean? This world we live in." Nukamura provides no answer, but he offers the reader fruitful opportunities to think about the question.