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BOOK REVIEW:

The Kamogawa food detectives

This is the first book, in a series, to be translated from Japanese into English. From the illustration on the book cover and the title of the book, this might seem to be a cozy mystery. And, in some ways it is. The Kamogawa Diner is located on an insignificant side street in Kyoto, and there is no signage outside. So, how do customers find this place, and how do the owners stay in business? First of all, there is a daily set menu for regulars who eat there. Other customers find the diner from a vaguely worded ad (“We find your food.”) in the Gourmet Monthly. The diner is run by a father (Nagare Kamogawa) and daughter (Koishi Kamogawa) duo. The dad cooks and the daughter investigates. Does she help clients investigate civil or criminal crimes? Does she help them find a missing person? And, what kind of food are clients looking for?  Koishi Kamogawa helps clients find a food dish that is lodged in their memory. Something that the client ate long ago. If it were only as simple as someone stating the name of a dish, such as salmon sushi, or beef stew, or the type of soup they ate. Very often the client cannot do that. Therefore Koishi asks questions, and sometimes she has trouble articulating precise questions because the client has provided incredibly vague descriptions of the dish. 

After interviewing the client, Koishi asks them to come back in two weeks. There is a two-week waiting period so that the father-daughter duo can work on figuring out an exact match to the client’s memory of what they ate, so very long ago. There is almost no limit to what the duo will do in order to solve the mystery of the food. For one client the father takes a short trip that becomes its own adventure.  As far as payment there is no money due (no deposit or down payment) until the mystery has been resolved, with the father cooking what exactly matches the client's remembrance.  “We only take payment from satisfied clients, so please pay for the detective service next week.”  And, for a final bill, the answer is, “ We let our clients decide what to pay. Whatever feels right. Just transfer it to this account please.” And the client is handed a slip of paper with payment details.

In addition to the main characters, the father-daughter duo, there is another recurring character, Drowsy, the outdoor cat, whose actions sometimes offer oblique clues about a client's personality, intentions and personal history.

What evolves is a type of exploration about local ingredients and their preparation by individual cooks; even the types of crockery used in preparing and serving food; the location of a water source; festivals and other specifics.  For this reader there were some culinary terms that required definitions, and only fueled my curiosity to do some research about the unique, distinct places, methods and ingredients of local Japanese cuisine. All of these writing features have created a novel that is compelling, charming and surprising. I eagerly look forward to the other books in the series.

 

 
 

 

 
 

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