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Morioka bookstore reveals top-selling book about serial killings is nonfiction novel

Bookstore employee Takashi Nagae, left, and journalist Kiyoshi Shimizu are seen in this photo taken in Morioka on Dec. 9, 2016. (Mainichi)

MORIOKA -- A top-selling book titled "Bunko X" -- about serial child killings in the northern Kanto region -- is in fact a novelized account of a real case, first published three years ago and disguised by a bookstore here.

    The "Sawayaka Shoten Fezan-ten" bookshop revealed on Dec. 9 that "Bunko X," wrapped in a jacket hiding its true title and author, is in fact a paperback edition of "Satsujin-han ha sokoniiru" (The murderer is there) by journalist Kiyoshi Shimizu and published by Shinchosha Publishing Co. The mysterious volume had an initial print run of 30,000, and has now sold some 180,000 copies.

    "I'm surprised as I never thought it would become such a sensation," the 58-year-old Shimizu commented at the bookstore.

    "Satsujin-han" is based on the real-life killings of four little girls and the disappearance of one more within a 10-kilometer radius of the Gunma-Tochigi prefectural border between 1979 and 1996. The book concentrates on one, the 1990 "Ashikaga murder" of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, and the subsequent false conviction of a local man despite his consistent protestations of innocence. The author traces the process of how the journalist protagonist cast doubt on DNA and other evidence used to convict the suspect, eventually paving the way to a retrial and acquittal.

    "It wouldn't sell if we tried to sell it the usual way," said 33-year-old bookstore employee Takashi Nagae about the book and its portrayal of a dogged reporter's passion to track down information on the illegitimacy of a murder conviction, and highlighting the injustice of a system that could condemn an innocent man while the real culprit remained free.

    The bookstore started selling "Bunko X" in late July, with its mystery cover carrying only an ardent endorsement of what lay within. The book is currently on the shelves at more than 650 bookstores across Japan.

    Shimizu said on Dec. 9, "The incidents have not yet been resolved, and I want the justice system to bring the real culprit to account."

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