Another Oriental locked room mystery, another uniquely shaped house, this time in the shape of the Chinese character for rain.
A year ago the owner, Jingfu Bai, his wife and their daughter, were all brutally killed. The man seen hurrying from the scene took his own life whilst in police custody and the case was closed. But on the anniversary of the triple-tragedy Death returns once more to the House of Rain.
Jingfu’s brother, Renze has taken possession of the palatial country house – it contains, amongst other things, a piano room, a movie room, badminton hall, tennis court and probably room for a pony as well (the three-storey floor plan is an aficianado’s dream) – and has invited Ruoping Lin to re-open the investigation. His daughter, Lingsha, has university friends staying for the weekend and one by one they start to die in violent and impossible ways.
This is another excellent story with a beautiful piece of cluing which in hindsight is so obvious but I completely overlooked it at the time. The identity of the killer is culturally appropriate although I can see that some could be disappointed. The characters do act as stupidly as if they were in a horror movie – leaving their bedrooms alone on the slightest provocation: I know you are temporarily cut-off from the outside world, but stock up from the kitchen and lock yourself in your room until the police do arrive – but then this is a staple of crime fiction from the Golden Age. The weekend houseparty always continues regardless of the fact that a murder has been committed.
Detailed Spoilers (highlight to read): I’m sure the basic premise has been used elsewhere – I’ve just never come across it before and I didn’t pick up on it even though I’d just read a completely different book where a woman was died when her feet were cut off by a lift – but the way that Lin uses it to explain an impossible beheading, strangling, fall from nowhere, a faked suicide, and then in the epilogue relates it back to the original case, is so wonderfully thorough. And even the title is fairplay – we’re primarily not dealing with murder here, just death, although our (incorrect) assumption is that murder is what has taken place.
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