Turning Japanese #3: The Honjin Murders (1946) by Seishi Yokomizo (translated by Louise Heal Kawai)

Kenzo Ichiyanagi and his bride Katsuko are killed on their wedding night inside a locked annexe surrounded by a pristine blanket of snow.

Fortunately the bride’s uncle is the mentor of Kosuke Kindaichi who is starting to make a name for himself as a private detective and the stammering Northerner is able to pick through the clues to identify the who and how and why behind this heinous crime.

There are distinct parallels between Kindaichi, described as a “great detective” and Sherlock Holmes. KK saves himself from a drug-addled life by solving his first case in San Francisco and describes his approach as follows:

“The police investigate footprints and look for fingerprints. I take the results of these investigations and by piecing together all the available information logically, I am able to reach a conclusion. Those are my methods of deduction.”

I appreciate the fact that he recognises the importance of the work the police do – after all even the gifted amateur sleuth cannot make bricks without straw.

The mystery and its solution are a definite homage to English language puzzles from between the wars and there is even a chapter titled “A Conversation about Detective Novels” which name checks many Western writers alongside their Japanese counterparts.

The story is interestingly framed as being a case from 1937 that Yokomizo happened upon towards the end of the Second World War when he had been evacuated to the countryside. This enables him tell the story from a number of different perspectives and to comment on what later happened to some of the protagonists, including,very matter of factly given that it was so recent, that one died during the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Overall this is a very satisfying book although a reasonable amount of information is withheld until the lengthy exposition which occurs after the revelation of the criminal’s identity. I was properly misled by a delicious piece of reverse cluing and I even wrote down “This means that it can’t be…” and yet I did not feel cheated. I look forward to reading “The Inugami Curse” by the same author and hope that more of his work will be translated soon.

Previous posts in this series:

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa



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