Cults in the Subway

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THE SONG OF SARIN, by Stew Magnuson. Xlibris Corp., 2003, 430 pp., $24.99 (paper).

No place like Aum

One spring morning en route to her office in Omotesando, Tokyo, 29-year-old American Tamara Duffy spots her Japanese ex-boyfriend and follows him onto the Chiyoda subway line. This becomes a mistake; the date is Monday, March 20, 1995, and Tamara’s friend is no longer the Junichi Habaki she knew, but “Siha,” a cultist whose assignment is to release toxic nerve gas on the subway. In reality, that morning 11 died and thousands were affected — many permanently disabled.

The lethal behavior of the Aum Supreme Truth has been covered by several works of nonfiction, most notably the Kaplan/Marshall “The Cult at the End of the World.” Now, thanks to Stew Magnuson, we have a fictional account as well.

Beside the strange fictional relationship between Tamara and her cultist boyfriend, the book addresses something that has yet to be fully publicized: How much did the Japanese police know about Aum, and what dissuaded them from taking action against the cult before it could paralyze the transit system with sarin? Was it inertia, incompetence, laziness or stupidity?

To provide an answer, the narrative works through the mind of Tokyo police detective Shin Nomura, who is referred to by colleagues as “Mr. Supreme Truth” for his single-minded pursuit of the cult. Unfortunately Nomura’s superior, chief Adachi, a man of typical bureaucratic mold, is not given to such rash actions as ordering the arrest of criminals. Not surprisingly, the two detest one another:

You stupid, incompetent fool, Nomura thought as he gave the police chief a long, hard stare. For five years he had been arguing for the immediate arrest of Shoko Asahara and his murderous followers. They had broken every conceivable law in Japan, including the release of sarin gas in the summer of 1994 in Matsumoto, but the police had done nothing. And Adachi was the chief of “doing nothing.”

While a bit melodramatic, those who recall the events of 1995 may find “The Song of Sarin” interesting in the way Magnuson creatively intersperses known details of the Aum case with the actions of his fictitious figures.
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Mark Schreiber is a devotee of mystery and adventure fiction set in Asia.

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The Japan Times, Japan
Jan. 18, 2004 Book Review
Mark Schreiber

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 17, 2014 at 6:12 PM, Central European Time (CET)