A few thoughts on Masako Togawa’s The Master Key
The Master Key is set in a rather rundown apartment complex for women. Each of the occupants have their own dramatic stories: a woman who want to be a mouse, a violinist with a paralyzed finger, a dwarf medium, a woman in a Miss-Havisham-like state of waiting. Togawa makes this a building of endless morbid interest. The Master Key of the title refers to a key that hangs behind the receptionist’s desk, a key that can open any of the doors in the building, and which would give the owner the power to peer into all these rooms. In some sense, the book itself is the reader’s master key, letting him into private rooms and private lives.
Binding all these separate stories together is a shadowy crime: a dead child buried in the basement 7 years ago. And now that the building is about to be shifted to make space for a road, the discovery of the crime is imminent. But there’s a religious cult leader who seems to know about things from the past. And there are mysterious phone calls to the receptionist. Who else knows about the murder?
To be clear: this is not a detective book. There is no deduction or investigating as you’d expect from my summary above. It’s more a series of psychological portraits of damaged women, tied together with this overarching theme of murder. Yes, there is a mystery that is resolved at the end with a surprising twist, but to my mind the core of the book would probably have worked without it, too. The pattern of the book is somewhat similar to this year’s Penance, by Kanae Minato, where the tragic stories of the characters after the crime was committed are more important than the crime itself.
Given this is a short book, it would be a good sharp read for fans of thrillers. Parts of it may feel slightly dated - this was written in 1984, after all - but the characters live on in your head.