Turning Japanese #4: Murder in the Crooked House (1982) by Soji Shimada (translated by Louise Heal Kawai)

Whilst Agatha Christie’s “Crooked House” may have contained crooked people, the titular “Ice Floe Mansion” is literally so, as it and the adjoining tower lean at an angle of about five degrees and coupled with the placement of the windows this has quite a disorienting effect on those not accustomed to it.

It is December 1983 and Kozaburo Hamamoto, the owner, invites family and friends to spend a traditional Christmas with him, complete with snow and a fully-lit tree, but their festive mood does not last long.

A young lady sees a horrible face at the window of her top-floor bedroom in the middle of the night but this doesn’t remain the subject of the next morning’s breakfast conversation for long when one guest is missed and discovered stabbed to death in their locked bedroom.

Despite the best efforts of four policemen who stay in the house during their investigation, death continues to strike at will, and again no lock can stop them. It is only when astrologer-cum-detective Kiyoshi Mitarai arrives that the truth can be revealed.

I had a hypothesis which was based purely on the time of the year but it was completely wide of the mark.

I think the solution will be very marmite – you’ll either love what Shimada has set up or you’ll hate it and think it has crossed into the ridiculous. I’m in the former camp although I think the book could have been shorter and that one of the murders should have had a better motive or could even have been done away with altogether.

I very much hope that Pushkin Vertigo are able to bring us more from this author in the not too distant future.

Previous posts in this series:

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

The Moai Island Puzzle by Alice Arisugawa

The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo

What Else I’ve Been Reading Recently

The Orange Axe (1931) by Brian Flynn

Six men conspire to kill a man who the law can’t touch but who is a blackmailer and probably a multiple murderer but in such a way that none of them can be sure who actually does the deed. This intriguing premise is what drew me to this title and whilst it didn’t pan out anything like I expected it to, it was an enjoyable read which delivered an unexpected conclusion.

A Kiss Before Dying (1953) by Ira Levin

I picked this up in a charity shop just before lockdown started having seen it reviewed by Aidan, king of the inverted mystery, at Mysteries Ahoy! A book in three parts, the first of which details an unnamed man’s efforts to murder his pregnant fiancée followed by two other sections which deal with the fall-out from his actions.

A very good book with, for me,  a laugh out loud moment at the end of part two. Two quotes stood out for me:

“The only study to which he applied himself was diction; he had been dismayed to hear the word ‘accent’  used in relation to himself, having always thought of it as something someone else had.”


“Every article was invested with significance…the books – especially – the books, for what better index of personality is there?”


16 thoughts on “Turning Japanese #4: Murder in the Crooked House (1982) by Soji Shimada (translated by Louise Heal Kawai)”

    1. After your recent podcast appearance I think it is a fitting title. I liked (following in ROT13): gur erirny bs gur xvyyre. V’q gubhtug vg zhfg or tbeqba naq gung ur fbzr xvaq bs enqvb nyvov. Naq gura gur ehguyrffarff va qvfcngpuvat svefg cbjryy naq gura fnqyl ryyra. Naq orsber gung gur pyhrf gung yrnq ryyra gb xabj vg jnf zheqre – juvpu V tbg whfg orsber fur qvq ohg univat gur nqinagntr bs xabjvat fur jnf tbvat gb trg zneevrq. Naq orsber gung gur xvyyre’f fjvsg punatr bs cyna jura gur cvyyf jrera’g gnxra. Naq gura uvf oenmraarff va tbvat nsgre znevba juvpu znqr zr ynhtu nygubhtu va uvaqfvtug vg jnf varivgnoyr tvira gur gvgyrf bs gur svefg gjb cnegf.


      1. Pshh. The Prince, maybe… 😉

        V nz tynq gung lbh rawblrq gur erirny. Vg gnxrf n ybg gb znxr zr ernyyl tnfc bhg ybhq jura ernqvat ohg gung vf bar bs gubfr zbzragf. Vg vf farnxl ohg V srry snve va gung jr xabj jung uvf cynaf jvyy or (nf lbh cbvag bhg, ol gur gvzr jr uvg gur guveq cneg jr xabj uvf ZB ohg V guvax uvf bowrpgvir vf pyrne rira orsber gung).


  1. The only irritating element of the solution was the sudden appearance of XXXXX that had gone unmentioned in the first 2/3 of the book. He could have fairly clued that part without much problem. Otherwise, I loved it. Shimada’s geometrical obsession is fairly unique among murder mystery writers.


    1. The XXXXX are mentioned fairly early on I would say (Act 1 Scene 6) and appear on the relevant diagrams. There is just the small authorial cheat which Shimdada owns up to which probably couldn’t be clued.


      1. Sorry, I meant tncf va gur jnyxjnlf abg gur iragf. Ur tbrf ba nobhg iragf sbe 16 cntrf. I honestly think he would have only given away the game to about ten percent of the audience if he had clued that element.


      2. Yes – that was probably mentioned much later. Naq uvqqra ol jung va uvaqfvtug vf n ernyyl srroyr rkphfr. Gur thl obhtug fghss gung jnf gbb fubeg fb V pbzcebzvfrq zl jbaqreshy ubhfr ol nyybjvat gur tncf gb fgnl – ab jnl qbrf gung unccra!


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