Turning Japanese #17: The Tattoo Murder (1948) by Akimitsu Takagi (translated by Deborah Boehm)

Kenzo Matsushita meets Kinue Nomura at a tattoo festival where she wins first prize for the depiction of the snake Orochimaru which covers her back. They quickly become lovers and she confides in him that she is afraid that someone wants to kill her for her tattoo. Shortly afterwards her head and limbs are found in a locked bathroom but her tattooed torso has vanished. Kenzo’s brother Inspector Daiyu Mashushita can make nothing of this nor the two other murders that follow in its wake and it is only when Kenzo bumps into his old friend Kyosuke Kamizu that things begin to take shape.

The explanation of the locked room trick comes almost one hundred pages before the end and whilst I didn’t really understand the exact detail of how it was done, the principal was clear and I really liked it. Just before the end I did twig to something important although my reason for that was ultimately incorrect (SPOILERS IN ROT 13: V unq orra pbaivaprq gung vg jnfa’g Gnznr’f obql orpnhfr ure gnggbb pbirerq ure nezf naq yrtf ohg gura V gubhtug jung vs vg jnf bayl gur urnq gung jnf uref (juvpu ybbxrq rabhtu yvxr Xvahr’f) naq gur nezf naq yrtf orybatrq gb fbzrbar ryfr ragveryl? Guvf jbhyq unir orra n tevfyvre rkcynangvba guna gur fvzcyre rkcynangvba gung Gnznr arire unq gur gnggbb naq V yvxrq gur cflpubybtvpny ernfbavat gung Ubevlnfh jbhyq arire unir gnggbbrq uvf guveq puvyq jvgu gur guveq bs gur zlgubybtvpny gevb).

I wonder how closely related the names Kyosuke and Koisuke are in Japanese and whether in giving his sleuth this name and the initials K.K. Takagi was giving a nod to Seishi Yokomizo’s Kindaichi who had appeared two years’ earlier in The Honjin Murders.

One of Kamizu’s schoolboy nicknames was the Reasoning Machine and I wondered if Takagi was deliberately referencing Jacques Futrelle’s Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen who was nicknamed the Thinking Machine. Had he translated that into Japanese and should it therefore have been translated back into English as the Thinking Machine to make the reference explicit? Here is an example of where a translator may have missed something unintentionally by not having a wide enough knowledge of a genre.

And finally, appropriately for a book where you need to see white as black and white as black, I realised that the Pushkin Vertigo logo isn’t actually a V with an odd dot but that the dot is the centre of a hidden P!

Click here for more reviews of Japanese mystery fiction.


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