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.

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

  1. Good to see you continuing this series of blog-posts and agree Death on Gokumon Island is a return to form after The Village of Eight Graves, which is more of an homage to the Doylean era than a detective story proper. Still a cracking read, but not one that scratches that detective itch.

    You might like to know Yokomizo’s The Devil’s Flute Murders is scheduled to be published next year. And that release will be preceded by Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Mill House Murders. So much to look forward in 2023!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m excited to discuss this one with you very soon. I had a few issues with the solution, but I loved how steeped in Japanese culture the whole affair was, and it might be that I simply don’t have the background to fully understand certain motives here.

    Totally excited for the next Kindaichi adventure, the new Ayatsuji . . . and the sequel to Death Among the Undead coming out shortly from LRI!


      1. It’s called Death Within the Evil Eye, and it’s not available yet. Santosh announced it on Twitter (I think he talks to John Pugmire). You can read a description on Amazon; it sounds intriguing!!


      2. I look forward to Death Within the Evil Eye and one of the “most tortuous” plots ever created, but what happened to Pierre Siniac’s Death on Bastille Day? That one was scheduled to be published before Death Within the Evil Eye.


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