Spiral begins hours after Ring's ending and stars Ando, a medical examiner who was once classmates with Ryuji, one of the main characters in Ring. Ando performs Ryuji's autopsy and is intrigued by several findings. First, Ryuji died of sudden heart failure despite being otherwise very healthy. Second, he has a mysterious ulcer in his throat. Further tests eventually reveal that Ryuji may have been killed by a virus that bears an eerie resemblance to smallpox. As Ando investigates, he learns of several other victims. But how is the virus transmitted? What does it do? And why did one man who was exposed to it, Asakawa, survive? The case takes on greater urgency when Mai, Ryuji's lover, disappears. Was she exposed via Ryuji somehow, and can she still be saved?
I highly recommend that those who haven't read the first book, Ring, do so before reading this one. And then maybe just stop there. Although Spiral tied up a few of Ring's loose ends, I didn't consider it to be a worthwhile continuation.
Suzuki attempted to make Sadako's curse more scientific rather than supernatural in this book, and it really didn't work for me. I could accept that the curse was virus-like in its transmission and requirements, but Suzuki also had it behaving
both like a sperm and an egg (just because it happened to sort of look like them?). Also, Suzuki envisioned DNA producing exact replicas of people, right down to their memories up to some point before their original death ("junk DNA" is a recording of a person's memories, or some nonsense like that). This went way beyond what I was willing to accept, even in a horror series featuring a killer videotape.
And the part where Suzuki gave Ryuji a special ability to communicate with Sadako made me want to bite something. There was no sign that Ryuji had any kind of paranormal abilities - he should not have been able to form an agreement with Sadako the way he did, or use his own corpse to create codes for Ando to decipher. And Sadako, considering her history, should have hated a rapist like Ryuji too much to let him somehow use her own abilities.
There were a few nicely creepy scenes, but for the most part Ring had a better and more unnerving atmosphere than Spiral. Ando spent a lot of time trying to figure out the stuff Asakawa had already figured out in the first book, and a little more time trying to figure out what Asakawa hadn't gotten wrong. There were a couple code deciphering sections that reminded me of parts of works like Soji Shimada's The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, inviting readers to decipher the codes along with Ando, but those ended up feeling more like filler than anything particularly useful. And speaking of filler, there was a excruciating 20-page summary of everything that happened in Ring, because apparently Suzuki couldn't trust that readers of Spiral had read the book before it. Yes, this section tied in with a discovery later in the book, but Suzuki could have accomplished the same thing in a couple pages.
Spiral reminded me a great deal of Hideaki Sena's Parasite Eve in the way it tried to incorporate science into its horrific supernatural developments, and also in the way it crapped on most of its few female characters.
I was cautiously optimistic that Mai would be a main character I could actually root for, despite her unfortunate affection for Ryuji. She seemed to be reasonably intelligent and not too much of a wet washcloth. Whereas Ando developed an instant crush on Mai, she spoke to him mostly out of a wish to maintain a connection to Ryuji and wasn't the slightest bit interested in any other sort of relationship with him. At the same time, she wasn't so attached to Ryuji as to fall completely apart after his death. She kept her professional commitments in mind and tried to fulfill them.
Unfortunately, my expectation that Mai would turn out to be one of the main characters of this book, working with Ando the way Ryuji worked with Asakawa in the first book, turned out to be way off the mark. After a couple on-page appearances, she disappeared from the text except as occasional motivation for Ando. Her ultimate fate depressed me, as did
Suzuki's reduction of women of child-bearing age to nothing more than potential incubators for Sadako.
Some of Ando's thoughts about Mai were bizarre and made me wonder if Suzuki had any idea about how female bodies work. When I first started the book, I snickered at the way Ando instantly concluded that Mai must be having her period because of one vague sentence from her and the fact that she looked pale. While I realize that some women have overly heavy or lengthy periods that can give them anemia, considering the situation I'd have assumed that Mai was pale because she was in shock at having discovered Ryuji's body only a few hours earlier. This thing about Mai having her period came up multiple times in the book, with Ando concluding each time that his intuition must have been correct. Ando also seemed to think it was perfectly natural for a grown woman's used underwear to smell like milk (yes, there's a part where he sniffs her underwear - it's one of the first things he does when he's left alone in her apartment).
I doubt I'll be continuing this series, and I kind of wish I had stopped after reading Ring. The new developments in Spiral made me more angry than excited. One thing I was left with was a desire to find and read more Japanese horror written by women. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like much has been translated into English. I've already read Mariko Koike's The Graveyard Apartment and would welcome other recommendations.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)