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December 02, 1990|CHARLES SOLOMON

A WILD SHEEP CHASE By Haruki Murakami, translated by Alfred Birnbaum (Plume: $8.95). The staccato sentences and off-beat imagery in this odd mystery suggest the work of Raymond Chandler. When his business partner complains that the narrator was more innocent in the old days, he replies, "Maybe so . . . And no doubt there's an innocent town somewhere where an innocent butcher slices innocent ham." A strange set of coincidences draws the uncommunicative and consummately ordinary narrator into the web of a powerful war criminal/right-wing politician/media czar who's searching for a mysterious sheep, that may be hidden somewhere in northern Japan. Murakami's narrative is curiously seductive, and when the novel takes an unexpected, mystical twist, the reader begins regarding lamb chops with new respect.

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