Turning Japanese #15: Death on Gokumon Island (1948) by Seishi Yokomizo (translated by Louise Heal Kawai)

Chimata Kito was so happy to have survived the war and to be returning to Japan but tragically he sickened and died on the troopship on the way home. His final words revealed his belief that his sisters were in great danger and so Kosuke Kindaichi goes to Gokumon Island to break the sad news to the Kito family and to try to protect the three young women.

Based on the book’s title, the reader can guess that Kindaichi will fail in this task, but when a murder does occur, why on earth is the victim hung upside down from a branch of a plum tree?

He is initially as shocked as those around him, but then, quite revealingly:

“Kosuke finally came to his senses, and, simultaneously, his sense of professionalism kicked in. Or rather, his natural instinct to enquire and pry raised its head.”

He has assistance from his old friend Inspector Isokawa, whose first mention gives rise to this reflection:

“Between the Honjin murder case and this current one, there had been a war on a global scale, and many men had been posted overseas and never returned. A good number of people remaining in Japan had had their houses burned to the ground, and been scattered all over the country, and there was often no way to ascertain whether they had survived the war. And now, here on this remote island, an island that Kosuke himself barely had any connection to, he had suddenly heard news of an old friend. It was completely unexpected and moving, and now he was feeling sentimental.”

I found this a much better read than The Village of Eight Graves published earlier this year as it is a more traditional style murder mystery and we see much more of Kindaichi. One clue is reasoned out in a way reminiscent of Ellery Queen and there is a brilliant verbal clue, which I would love to see what the literal original meaning is and how the translator has worked out how to make it work in English. I really enjoyed the solution and the final little something that Yokomizo slips in at the very end.

Click here for more reviews of Japanese mystery fiction.

The Burglar Who Liked To Quote Kipling (1979) by Lawrence Block

Although included as one of the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives Bernie Rhodenbarr is very much an accidental sleuth as his primary occupation is that of lawbreaker.

At the beginning of this, the third book in the series, he has recently come out of prison and bought a second-hand bookstore and tells Ray Kirschmann, “the best cop money could buy, and money could buy him seven days a week”, that his life of crime is behind him, but by the end of chapter two, he has stolen a car to go and steal a rare book from a collector. The burglary itself goes smoothly but when he goes to hand it over to his client he is drugged and wakes up with a gun in his hand and a dead woman in front of him. With the police on his trail, he will have to catch the real killer before they catch him.

Bernie is an amusing character – chapter one where he bamboozles an incompetent shoplifter is brilliant – and the fact that he steals what he needs rather than pay for it just because he can, provides plenty of incident.

The book climaxes with an unexpectedly traditional gathering of the suspects, and whilst I was having too much fun to be bothered with a seeming lack of clues, at this point I realised that there were some good ones hidden away in amongst the various shenanigans. 

I’d definitely pick up another of Bernie’s burglarious adventures if I came across one second-hand.