The Night of Baba Yaga

Soho Crime. Jul. 2024. 216p. tr. from Japanese by Sam Bett. ISBN 9781641294911. $27.95. THRILLER
Otani’s English-language debut transports readers to 1970s Japan, where Yoriko Shindo, an outcast from Hokkaido, has mastered the art of fighting through her grandfather’s teachings. Shindo, kidnapped and brought to the compound of Genzo Naiki, learns she either works for him or she dies—and in the Yakuza, death is neither swift nor merciful. Her job: act as bodyguard to Naiki’s only daughter Shoko as the girl begins to attend junior college. Shoko regards Shindo with contempt, insulting her humble country origins and tossing out orders. As time passes, Shindo discovers that Shoko is far from a pampered princess. Surrounded by constant violence where life is cheap, Shindo realizes that she cares as much about Shoko’s survival as her own. Otani paints a vivid, unsettling picture of the violent world of the Yakuza. The story jumps in time without warning and readers will need to pay attention to the changes, which become clear at the end.
VERDICT A mashup of crime thriller and queer romance, this fascinating fairy tale retelling has a decidedly un-fairytale-like ending but showcases the power of two very different women who risk everything to be free.
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