Turning Japanese #8: The Decagon House Murders (1987) by Yukito Ayatsuji (translated by Ho-Ling Wong) – WITH SPOILERS

I’d been eagerly anticipating reading this book all year. At the end of 2019 I knew I wanted to get into Japanese mystery fiction and because of the Christie connection had always planned to get a copy of this from the Locked Room International series and then it was announced that the rights had been bought by Pushkin Vertigo but that publication wasn’t due until December 2020.

So instead of starting my eastern adventures with this title, I am ending the year with it instead but my experiences with the 8 books that I have reviewed plus 2 unreviewed titles by Keigo Higashino means this series of posts will definitely continue into 2021.

The back cover tells the reader:

“A Japanese bestseller inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None

and the Prologue:

“He had to kill them in order, one by one. Precisely like that story written by that famous British writer – slowly, one after the other. He would show them. The suffering, the sadness, the pain and terror of death.”

So when a group of students from the K- University Mystery Club head over to a deserted island for a week’s holiday we know where we stand.

I don’t think this actually contains any spoilers for “And Then There Were None” but given this book is an attempt to take that most famous of premises and put a new spin on it, it makes sense to have read it first.

I feel unqualified to give this an objective review, for reasons which will become clear below, but I think this deserves to be read as a companion piece to the World’s Best-Selling Mystery just because Ayatsuji had the chutzpah to attempt it.

And now into my personal reading experience which contains full spoilers.

SPOILERS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I noticed that there were a number of different cigarette brands being smoked and smiled at this classic gambit – there would be clues around who had smoked what and when – and then I forgot about it until I re-read the first appearance of certain characters and kicked myself!

I got an idea in my head which although I had looked back on and refuted, still coloured my thinking so that the big reveal was lost on me. Two things came into my mind:

  1. The club nicknames were handed down over time.
  2. The students on the island had no idea why anyone would want to kill them.

Conclusion: It was the previous year’s core group who were responsible for Nakamura Chiori’s death. Their was going to be an ironic undertone in that the killer was taking revenge on the wrong people!

At this point I looked back at some parts of the book and saw that Nakamura “is such an ordinary family name” and that Chiori had only talked to Orczy about her background and asked to keep it a secret. This explained why they hadn’t immediately realised what the motive was -but I still had this idea of the nicknames applying to multiple people.

So when Morisu reveals that his club nickname is “Van Dine” in my mind I said “He’s last year’s Van Dine!” (I hadn’t taken in that it was only Conan who was an ex-member) – also in line with “And Then There Were None” and having read the contents page I wasn’t expecting the truth to be revealed until the Epilogue.

And so through my own stupidity I missed the Oh My Gosh moment! In the next very short chapter we find that only six students had died on Tsunojima but it wasn’t until Morisu says that his uncle owned the Decagon House that I realised there was only one Van!

So I’m still reflecting on what I feel about this book – but there is one thing I definitely don’t buy – that when examining the poisoned coffee cup you would not notice that it had 11 sides rather than 10 as the opposite sides would no longer be parallel and whichever way you held it it would have a point.

 

 

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

Murder in the Crooked House by Soji Shimada

The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo

The 8 Mansion Murders by Takemaru Abiko

Death in the House of Rain by Szu-Yen Lin

8 thoughts on “Turning Japanese #8: The Decagon House Murders (1987) by Yukito Ayatsuji (translated by Ho-Ling Wong) – WITH SPOILERS”

  1. I read this last year, although I was too busy to do a post about it, which I’ve always regretted. It’s such a great read and I really want to sing its praises.

    I spotted the killer, and at the same time I didn’t. You probably know what I mean. Man, that revelation at the end totally spun me around. Didn’t see that coming at all.

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    1. Still remains one of the best killer reveals I’ve encountered in all my genre reading; I take your point about the coffee cup, John, but I’ll let it pass because everything else about this is so brilliantly refined. Locked Room International’s first shin honkaku publication, can you believe? How the time flies…

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  2. It might be a bit unrealistic, but the coffee cup thing felt like payoff for all the allusions to perceptual distortion caused by the shape of the house that are in the text. The bit that I don’t really buy is the killer’s motive, they seem a bit ‘crazy’ in assigning blame (but just before they die the first victim assigns blame the same way, so we’re being told as readers this is a reasonable thing to do, still seems iffy to me)

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