Inspector Kosuke Iwata was born of many mothers, many mangers. The first twinkle in my eye was probably somewhere in the pages of Seichō Matsumoto’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates. A phlegmatic, haiku-composing detective in post-war Japan, the eponymous Imanishi solves intriguing murders and takes naps by rivers. I also felt some strong baby kicks in Eduardo Sacheri’s The Secret in Their Eyes. But where Iwata really came screaming into the world was beyond the realms of fiction, in a newspaper photograph taken in a Tokyo park. Specifically Soshigaya Park, outside the Miyazawa family house, on the anniversary of the atrocity committed on the last day of the year 2000. The sashimi knife-wielding killer is still at large today.
It was on April 17th 2014, in a dated Hiroshima hotel room, that I came across that photograph of Tokyo Homicide detectives bowing before an empty, unavenged house. One of the detectives looked fairly young. He seemed to be on the verge of tears. I wondered who he was. Looking back, I realise that was probably Iwata’s birthday. Of course, determining the exact genesis of an idea is a tricky business but it was certainly from somewhere in that tangle of jet lag, true crime, and a 60s Japanese detective novel, that Inspector Kosuke Iwata emerged in the pre-dawn that April morning.
In Blue Light Yokohama, my first novel, we see Iwata transferred to the Shibuya Homicide Division, replacing a deeply-esteemed senior detective who has recently killed himself. Iwata, still adrift in the loss of his wife, Cleo, and baby, Nina, is trying his best to keep himself from falling apart by throwing himself into what he knows best: murder. He’s partnered with the truculent Assistant Inspector Noriko Sakai who takes few prisoners, and even less crap. After reviewing the crime scene – an entire Korean family murdered in their home – she wonders what the meaning is of the black sun symbol left behind by the killer. Iwata doesn’t know but he does know what the murderer means by it: I am here. I am not finished.
Some five years on, Iwata lives in Los Angeles where he works as a private eye (though he prefers the term professional investigator). Bi-lingual and bi-cultural, he has grown up between Japan and California though there is nowhere he feels at home. Iwata wakes early for morning runs, takes Spanish classes, takes his coffee black. He is a quiet, outwardly serene man, but still waters run deep. Every day is another battle to reconcile his identity with his past mistakes, his tragedies, and his own sins. He spends his days searching for LA’s missing persons and unfaithful spouses, while he spends his nights with an unavailable woman. His life is no bed of roses but his nightmares are behind him.
Or so Iwata thinks.
In Sins as Scarlet, his uneasy peace is shattered when an old ghost comes calling: Cleo’s mother. She demands Iwata’s help. Cleo’s sister, Meredith Nichol, a transgender sex worker eking out an existence on LA’s Skid Row, has been found dead by some train tracks. No clues have been left behind and the police have little to go on beyond prejudice and speculation. She’s quickly figured for just another lost soul.
Owing Cleo’s mother a blood debt, Iwata must renounce his simple life under the blue skies and palm trees, losing himself in an odyssey of murder and missing souls. Lives untangle, fates converge, and blood is spilt bright scarlet as Inspector Iwata discovers a river of sin flowing through LA’s underbelly, Mexico’s borderlands, and deep within his own past in Tokyo.
Have you read any of Nicolás Obregón’s Inspector Iwata novels? Let us know in the comments below!