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Books: Hit Japanese mystery novel proves life is stranger than fiction

'Lady Joker' delves into bizarre kidnapping and corporate extortion case of the 1980s

Kaoru Takamura's novel "Lady Joker" is well worth the wait for anyone interested in a panoramic portrait of modern Japanese society, including its dark corners, as well as fans of intelligent mysteries. Shown at right is Ezaki Glico President Katsuhisa Ezaki, whose kidnapping in 1984 helped inspire the novel. (Nikkei Asia montage/photo by Kyodo)

One of the most mysterious incidents in the annals of sensational unsolved crimes that dot Japan's postwar history concerns the confectionary company, Ezaki Glico.

In March 1984, company President Katsuhisa Ezaki was abducted from his home and an enormous ransom was demanded. He made his escape some days later. The criminal gang -- which dubbed itself "the Monster with 21 Faces" after a villain in a series of early 20th-century mystery novels -- then threatened to poison the company's products. Shortly afterward, a "fox-eyed" (i.e., narrow-eyed) man in a baseball cap was caught on a security camera tampering with confectionaries on shop shelves.

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