Four girls — Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko — observe how their friend Emily walks away with an unknown man. Resolute Emily was the only one who decided to help and show the way to the stranger. But it’s the last time that Emily is seen alive. Soon, police will begin investigating her murder. None of her friends recalls the face of the alleged murderer and the investigation stops at a dead end. Years later, Emily’s mother confronts now grown-up women and demands redemption.
Next — after well-received Confessions — novel by Kanae Minato translated to English is a crime novel of a different kind. It doesn’t focus solely on the crime and search for the perpetrator but on the mark that a tragedy from the past leaves on those most involved. Penance, just like Confessions and other works by Minato earlier, is a polyphonic novel — every chapter is narrated by a different character: Sae, Maki, Akiko, Yuko, and, finally, by Emily’s mother. They differ in form — one time the story takes form of letters, other times notes from interrogation or conversations — to keep the reader at the edge of their seat.
Acclaimed director Kiyoshi Kurosawa based his film on the story.