Turning Japanese #12: Death Among the Undead (2017) by Masahiro Imamura (translated by Ho-Ling Wong)

Narrator Yuzuru Hamura had planned to join the Mystery Club when he started at Shinko University but as its members like light mystery and have no interest in classic orthodox mysteries he instead becomes the second member of the Mystery Society run by Kyusoke Akechi. As well as enjoying crime fiction, Akechi enjoys real life minor cases on campus as well as finding lost cats.

Akechi has his sights set on greater things, and wants to join the Film Club’s summer trip to the Villa Violet, reasoning it’s the type of place where something interesting might happen. He is unsuccessful in getting an invitation until Hiruko Kenzaki, who has her own reasons for attending, persuades the club president, Ayumu Shindo, that all three of them should be allowed to come.

The first day of the holiday goes reasonably well, but that evening the group are attacked by zombies and barricade themselves in the hotel. As if that wasn’t enough, the next morning they find that one of them has been killed inside their locked bedroom apparently by a zombie. Except a zombie couldn’t have left the note wedged in the door saying “Thanks for the delicious meal” and surely no human could have killed a person by biting them to death and gnawing off their face.

So the Mystery Society have to solve the puzzle and avoid the internal threat of a determined killer who continues to strike whilst dealing with the external threat posed by the undead.

As detailed in Soji Shimada’s introduction this book is effectively shin shin honkaku, making reference to Ayatsuji’s “House” series and the intriguing sounding “Flower Burial” series by Mikihiko Renjo- can we have one of these please Locked Room International?

There is a three storey floor plan, which includes a clue, if you want to look for it and a cast list as Hamura himself writes “Having to remember eleven names in one day was a little too much for me. Whenever I read mystery novels, I always forget the names of the characters, and have to go back to the list on the front page.”

The presence of the zombies as well as cutting the students off from the outside world and giving them less and less space in which to manoeuvre like the fire in Ellery Queen’s The Siamese Twin Mystery are integral to the how and why of the murders and so are no mere gimmick.

This an absolute triumph and a reminder that the Golden Age tradition is alive and well for those writers who choose to embrace it and is not limited by time, place, or even genre itself.

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

The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji – WITH SPOILERS

The Red Locked Room by Tetsuya Ayukawa

Ellery Queen’s Japanese Mystery Stories

Lending the Key to the Locked Room by Tokuya Higashigawa

Cecily Disappears: Moonflower Murders (2020) by Anthony Horowitz – WITH SPOILERS

This contains spoilers throughout so do not proceed unless you have read the book. As you have read the book, I don’t need to give a rough outline of the story – this is my random thoughts having finished the book.

  • I’d read this just for the Atticus Pünd story. We know Conway wrote only nine of them but even if Susan Ryeland finds no more connections between his books and real-life murder cases, I’m sure someone like Anthony Horowitz could be approached to write a continuation series!
  • The naming of the characters after mystery writers completely passed me by – with the exception Mrs Green of Leavenworth Cottage who Susan Ryeland doesn’t cite.
  • I loved the Ludendorff Diamond short story which foreshadowed the fact that the murder of Melissa took place after everybody thought it had occurred. Once it had been revealed that Francis Pendleton was going to confess because he thought he had killed his wife, I expected that was the reason that Stefan Codrescu’s confession was for the same reason. Re-thinking this I can see this was half-baked – if Stefan had just knocked Frank Parris out with a single blow then he would have known someone else had hit him multiple times.
  • As I’m re-reading the Chronicles of Narnia at the moment I picked up on the double mention of Narnia and was sure that because it had been mentioned twice it must have a significance. The only thing I could come up with was that it pointed to someone having hid in a wardrobe. It’s interesting that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is used as one of many hidden references to lions in a book, when it itself contains many references to Jupiter which author C. S. Lewis deliberately hid in the text.
  • SPOILERS IN ROT13 – ONLY READ IF YOU HAVE READ THE WHOLE CHRISTIE CANON – V ybir ubj raqyrffavtug vf ersreraprq ol fhfnaelrynaq nf bar bs nynapbajnl’f uvqqra wbxrf qrfpevovat gur ivyyntr ol avtug jura npghnyyl V oryvrir vg vf ubebjvgm’f sberfunqbjvat gur snpg gung nvqra znparvy vf nf urnegyrff n xvyyre naq fpurzre nf zvpunryebtref jnf va gung obbx. 
  • My nitpicking mind did notice that Susan says that when they were designing the covers for the  Pünd books they wanted them to stand apart from vintage editions such as my beloved British Library Crime Classics range. However they only started in 2014 whereas the third of Conway’s books is copyright 2009!
  • I don’t know whether all editions have Alan Conway’s interview with Richard and Judy at the end in which we are told that he has hidden anagrams of ten named Golden Age writers in his responses. It’s great fun so if you don’t have it, please contact me and I’ll try to send you a copy.

 

 

 

#70 – Hallowe’en Party

Mrs Oliver is attending a Hallowe’en party put on for the local youth and is discussing her books with one girl when another says:

“I saw a murder once.”

No one believes her and the festivities continue. It is only after the party when she is found drowned in the apple bobbing bucket that people realise she may have been speaking the truth.

Inevitably Mrs Oliver calls in Hercule Poirot and he is very happy to come and investigate when he remembers that the location of the crime, Woodleigh Common, is where his friend Superintendent Spence has retired to.

He finds a number of suspicious deaths have taken place in the community over the past few years and decides that if he can solve a historic case that will lead him to the present day killer.

I’ve seen some of the David Suchet adaptation so I knew who the murderer was and I may have read the book before, but if so remembered very little of the detail, especially not the one clever bit of what was going that completely passed me by. However there is only one clever bit, with a massive clue that most readers should spot, and then a crazy denouement based on one person’s completely idiotic behaviour.

As with a number of latter Christie’s this is one for completists only.

Recurring Character Development

Hercule Poirot

Has a friend Solomon “Solly” Levy, with whom he frequently discusses the Canning Road Municipal Baths murder.

Occasionally almost regrets not having studied theology.

Drinks a beer and ginger beer shandy with Superintendent Spence.

Enjoys Mrs McKay’s sausages but not her strong tea.

Investigated the theft of some old family silver in Ireland five or six years ago.

Has little knowledge of plant names.

He places justice above mercy.

Makes use of Mr Goby’s foreign service, which is as competent as his English one.

Ariadne Oliver

Was in America last year at the time of Thanksgiving where she saw many pumpkins.

Ann tells her that she enjoyed “The Dying Goldfish”. Mrs Oliver doesn’t correct her, but maybe she was misremembering the title of “The Affair of the Second Goldfish”.

Was called selfish as a child by “a nursemaid, a nanny, a governess, her grandmother, two great-aunts, her mother and a few others”.

Met Judith and Miranda Butler on a Greek cruise.

Signs of the Times

Miss Whittaker says that the eleven-plus was abolished some time ago. This was, and in some areas still is, an exam taken by primary school leavers to determine which type of secondary school they should go to: originally grammar, secondary modern, or technical. It was started in 1944 and began to be phased out during the 1960s as many schools became comprehensive.

Dr Ferguson describes Spence as “(a) Good honest police officer of the old type. No graft. No violence. Not stupid either. Straight as a die.” This is an implicit recognition that whilst the GAD policeman was generally good and hard-working, the real thing could be very different.

Mrs Oliver isn’t sure if it is (Robert) Burns or Sir Walter Scott who wrote “there’s a chiel among you taking notes” but it is the former in “On the Late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations Thro’ Scotland” where it is rendered as “A chield’s amang you takin notes”.

Mrs Drake’s husband was knocked over and killed by a Grasshopper Mark 7. This two-seater sports car was one of many copies of the Lotus Seven, which is seen in the opening titles of “The Prisoner” TV series.

When Poirot agrees with an elderly gardener that he is not a local and says “I am a stranger with you as were my fathers before me” he is quoting from Psalm 39.

Mrs Goodbody’s grandmother was in service during the reign of William IV who she says had a “head like a pair”. William did have a big head and was nicknamed “Pineapple” or “Pineapple Head”.

Mrs Oliver is so used now to receiving telegrams by telephone, that she is surprised to receive a “real” paper one.

References to previous works

A number of references are made to “Mrs McGinty’s Dead” and what happened to some of the characters therein.

Miss Emlyn has heard about Poirot from a teacher at Meadowbank School, the setting for “Cat Among the Pigeons”.

Poirot thinks about “The Labours of Hercules”.

Inspector Timothy Raglan appears in this book. An Inspector Raglan appeared in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” and “The Seven Dials Mystery”.

 

#70 – Hallowe’en Party – WITH SPOILERS

Mrs Oliver is attending a Hallowe’en party put on for the local youth and is discussing her books with one girl when another says:

“I saw a murder once.”

No one believes her and the festivities continue. It is only after the party when she is found drowned in the apple bobbing bucket that people realise she may have been speaking the truth.

Inevitably Mrs Oliver calls in Hercule Poirot and he is very happy to come and investigate when he remembers that the location of the crime, Woodleigh Common, is where his friend Superintendent Spence has retired to.

He finds a number of suspicious deaths have taken place in the community over the past few years and decides that if he can solve a historic case that will lead him to the present day killer.

I’ve seen some of the David Suchet adaptation so I knew who the murderer was and I may have read the book before, but if so remembered very little of the detail, especially not the one clever bit of what was going that completely passed me by. However there is only one clever bit, with a massive clue that most readers should spot, and then a crazy denouement based on one person’s completely idiotic behaviour.

As with a number of latter Christie’s this is one for completists only.

Recurring Character Development

Hercule Poirot

Has a friend Solomon “Solly” Levy, with whom he frequently discusses the Canning Road Municipal Baths murder.

Occasionally almost regrets not having studied theology.

Drinks a beer and ginger beer shandy with Superintendent Spence.

Enjoys Mrs McKay’s sausages but not her strong tea.

Investigated the theft of some old family silver in Ireland five or six years ago.

Has little knowledge of plant names.

He places justice above mercy.

Makes use of Mr Goby’s foreign service, which is as competent as his English one.

Ariadne Oliver

Was in America last year at the time of Thanksgiving where she saw many pumpkins.

Ann tells her that she enjoyed “The Dying Goldfish”. Mrs Oliver doesn’t correct her, but maybe she was misremembering the title of “The Affair of the Second Goldfish”.

Was called selfish as a child by “a nursemaid, a nanny, a governess, her grandmother, two great-aunts, her mother and a few others”.

Met Judith and Miranda Butler on a Greek cruise.

Signs of the Times

Miss Whittaker says that the eleven-plus was abolished some time ago. This was, and in some areas still is, an exam taken by primary school leavers to determine which type of secondary school they should go to: originally grammar, secondary modern, or technical. It was started in 1944 and began to be phased out during the 1960s as many schools became comprehensive.

Dr Ferguson describes Spence as “(a) Good honest police officer of the old type. No graft. No violence. Not stupid either. Straight as a die.” This is an implicit recognition that whilst the GAD policeman was generally good and hard-working, the real thing could be very different.

Mrs Oliver isn’t sure if it is (Robert) Burns or Sir Walter Scott who wrote “there’s a chiel among you taking notes” but it is the former in “On the Late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations Thro’ Scotland” where it is rendered as “A chield’s amang you takin notes”.

Mrs Drake’s husband was knocked over and killed by a Grasshopper Mark 7. This two-seater sports car was one of many copies of the Lotus Seven, which is seen in the opening titles of “The Prisoner” TV series.

When Poirot agrees with an elderly gardener that he is not a local and says “I am a stranger with you as were my fathers before me” he is quoting from Psalm 39.

Mrs Goodbody’s grandmother was in service during the reign of William IV who she says had a “head like a pair”. William did have a big head and was nicknamed “Pineapple” or “Pineapple Head”.

Mrs Oliver is so used now to receiving telegrams by telephone, that she is surprised to receive a “real” paper one.

References to previous works

A number of references are made to “Mrs McGinty’s Dead” and what happened to some of the characters therein.

Miss Emlyn has heard about Poirot from a teacher at Meadowbank School, the setting for “Cat Among the Pigeons”.

Poirot thinks about “The Labours of Hercules”.

Inspector Timothy Raglan appears in this book. An Inspector Raglan appeared in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” and “The Seven Dials Mystery”.

SPOILERS

I assumed that either Joyce was for once telling the truth, despite being a habitual liar, or that she her lie had hit a nerve with someone. Despite Poirot continually harping on about the safety of the Butlers, I didn’t realise that she had borrowed Miranda’s story in the same way that she had appropriated her uncle’s tales of India.

However the obviousness of Mrs Drake dropping the vase of flowers and covering herself in water when we know that the killer must have got wet is very unsubtle.

And Miranda almost deserves to be murdered for running off with Michael Garfield when she had been told she is in danger. And it is completely unnecessary to throw in that he is her father – in a similar way to another later book where a family relationship is revealed at the end.

Turning Japanese #11: Lending the Key to the Locked Room (2002) by Tokuya Higashigawa (translated by Ho-Ling Wong)

Ryuhei Tomura’s ex-girlfriend is murdered shortly after he has threatened toLending kill her. Fortunately for him at the time of the crime he was watching a classic mystery film with his friend, Kosaku Moro, so he has a straightforward alibi.

Well that would be very dull.. so fortunately for the reader Kosaku is also killed the same night. Ryuhei collapses after finding his friend’s body and wakes up the next morning to find that the flat is locked from the inside – so rather than being in the clear, he’s now in the frame for two murders!

He gets in touch with his ex-brother-in-law, private detective Morio Ukai, and, by posing as policemen, they investigate what has been going on, while trying to keep away from the true representatives of the law.

This is the least successful of the shin-honkaku novels that I have read to date because it has the weakest solution to the locked room element- I noted it down twice as a possibility – and there wasn’t enough going on in terms of red herrings, other characters etc to sustain the length, so maybe it would have worked better as a novella. In addition the translation seemed unpolished – I don’t know how much that reflects the original Japanese prose and how much latitude a translator has to improve a text stylistically.

However I did enjoy the fact that the solution comes partly from the police, partly from the PI and then finally the police come in again with the final piece of the puzzle. Also I liked SPOILERS IN ROT13 gur fvtavsvpnapr bs gur fbhaqcebbsrq ebbz va ceriragvat Elhurv sebz urnevat gur fveraf naq ubj gur yvtugavat fgevxr shysvyyrq gur svany cneg bs Zbeb’f cyna ol er-frggvat gur gvzre ba gur ivqrb cynlre.

So don’t start your Japanese mystery journey here, but do have a look at some of the titles that I’ve already reviewed below.

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

The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji – WITH SPOILERS

The Red Locked Room by Tetsuya Ayukawa

Ellery Queen’s Japanese Mystery Stories

Sherlockian Shorts #6 – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Part 4

A series of posts, containing full spoilers, as I make my way once more through the complete canon, picking out points of interest and reflecting on my personal experience of the stories.

The Noble Bachelor

  • “It is always a joy to meet an American, Mr Moulton, for I am one of those who believe that the folly of a monarch and the blundering of a minister in far-gone years will not prevent our children from being someday citizens of the same worldwide country under a flag which shall be a quartering of the Union Jack with the Stars and Stripes,” says Holmes. This attitude explains why Andrew Lane gave him an American tutor in his Young Sherlock series.

The Beryl Coronet

  • Holmes’ fees must be in some way proportionate to what his client can afford to pay. Here he charges £1,000 on top of the £3,000 that he had in ready cash to pay to recover the three stolen jewels.
  • Despite his aversion to women, Holmes has not ruled out the possibility of children as he says “…your son, who has carried himself in the matter as I should be proud to see my own son do, should I ever chance to have one.”

The Copper Beeches

  • A companion piece to The Red-Headed League where an offer of a salary far above the market rate indicates that something not quite right is afoot.

Previous posts in this series:

#1 – A Study in Scarlet

#2 – The Sign of the Four

#3 -A Scandal in Bohemia, The Red-Headed League, and A Case of Identity

#4 – The Boscombe Valley Mystery. The Five Orange Pips, and The Man with the Twisted Lip

#5 – The Blue Carbuncle, The Speckled Band, and The Engineer’s Thumb

#69 – By the Pricking of My Thumbs

When visiting Tommy’s aunt at Sunny Ridge old people’s home, Tuppence meets Mrs Lancaster who, seeing her looking at the fireplace, asks “Was it your poor child?” then goes on to say “That’s where it is, you know. Behind the fireplace.”

Three weeks later Aunt Ada has died in her sleep and the only trace of Mrs Lancaster is a picture of a house that she gave her before she was taken away by relatives. A house that Tuppence has seen once before, if only she could remember where.

So while Tommy attends the annual conference of the International Union of Associated Security, she wends her way through the English countryside to find the mystery house and to see whether Mrs Lancaster really did know about a historic crime.

I quite enjoyed this book up until about two thirds in and the appearance of Mr Eccles and everything went all Bertram’s Hotel for no reason whatsoever. I liked how Tuppence and Tommy both got to the same result by different means and it is good to see them at the next stage of their life together. With a better ending this would have been a fitting ending for the Beresford saga…but then we’d still have Postern of Fate to come!

Recurring Character Development

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford

Are now an elderly couple. Traces of his red hair remain but generally it is a sandy-cum-grey colour. Her black hair is now adulterated with random streaks of grey.

His mother has been dead for nearly forty years.

They’ve been married for over thirty years and their son and daughter are also married.

They honeymooned in Ostend.

She enjoys White Lady cocktails.

She has a god daughter called Anthea.

Albert Batt

Is now portly and is the Beresfords non-live-in servant.

His wife’s name is Milly and his youngest child is called Elizabeth. Some of his other children are Charlie and Jean.

Before meeting the Beresfords worked for six months with an antique dealer.

Signs of the Times

When Tommy mentions a book that teaches five year olds to paint in water colours his friend Robert says “Grandma Moses in reverse.” Anna Mary Robertson Moses (1860-1961) only started painting seriously at the age of 78 and enjoyed a very successful career despite starting so late in life.

References to Previous Works

They reminisce about the events of N or M? What they thought may happen at the end of that book can’t have come to pass.

 

The Problem of the Wire Cage (1939) by John Dickson Carr

Hugh Rowland wants to marry Brenda but she is engaged to Frank Dorrance asWire Cage under the terms of his uncle’s will they only inherit his fortune if they marry. the only exception is if one of them dies before the wedding can take place which is more than a little awkward for Brenda when Frank’s body is found in the middle of a clay tennis court which shows both their footprints leading to the body but only hers returning. If she didn’t strangle him then who could have done so without leaving any trace of their presence?

Enter Dr Gideon Fell thus:

“He turned round like a galleon and blinked towards the lighted house. They saw eyeglasses on a broad black ribbon; a vast pink face beaming like that of Father Christmas; and a bandit’s moustache.”

This type of crime is right up his street; the ordinary, as he says himself, is not for him:

“My scope in police work, I cheerfully admit, is limited. I could not tell you whether it was One-Eyed Ike or Louie the Lizard who cracked Isaac Goldbaum’s safe. If I were to attempt shadowing anybody, the shadowee would find himslef about as inconspicuous as though he were to walk down Piccadilly pursued by the Albert Memorial. Nor can I take one look at a footprint and tell you who made it. No. I am – h’mf – merely your consultant on the outré; or, to put it more popularly, the old guy who enjoys funny business.”

The plan of the court showing the wire fence surrounded by tightly growing poplars surrounded by a yew hedge reminded me of one of my favourite Father Brown stories – although the method there could not possibly have been used in this case.

When I came across a particular phrase I remembered a murder method from a short story which would fit the bill and for a time I was sure I was right – and then after more was revealed I decided I was wrong. Until another thing was mentioned and I thought I had been on the right track but the second murder meant that was no longer possible (at least without breaking the Knox Decalogue!). So I was most satisfied to be proven wrong when Dr Fell revealed both the method and the murderer.

Not a first-rate Carr by any means, but tier two is still better than many people’s best.

This is part of my series on the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives.

 

 

 

#68 – Endless Night

Michael meets Ellie and they enjoy a whirlwind romance and are soon happily married. Yet as this is an Agatha Christie this won’t last as  whilst “Some are born to Sweet Delight, Some are born to Endless Night”.

I can’t say too much more about the plot as most of the action takes place in the second half which makes for a very short review. On first reading I was actually angry with the solution but a re-read has given me a new perspective and I would now agree with what seems to be the general opinion that is one of the better late-period Christie’s.

 

Signs of the Times

Andrew Lippincott travelled on the Queen Mary. This was near the end of her life as she was retired in 1967 after 31 years of service during which she twice broke the record for crossing the Atlantic and served as a troopship during WWII.

 

 

#68 – Endless Night – WITH SPOILERS

Michael meets Ellie and they enjoy a whirlwind romance and are soon happily married. Yet as this is an Agatha Christie this won’t last as  whilst “Some are born to Sweet Delight, Some are born to Endless Night”.

I can’t say too much more about the plot as most of the action takes place in the second half. On first reading I was actually angry with the solution but a re-read has given me a new perspective and I would now agree with what seems to be the general opinion that is one of the better late-period Christie’s.

 

Signs of the Times

Andrew Lippincott travelled on the Queen Mary. This was near the end of her life as she was retired in 1967 after 31 years of service during which she twice broke the record for crossing the Atlantic and served as a troopship during WWII.

 

 

SPOILERS

Re-reading a book with an unreliable narrator gives the reader the fun of finding where they have incorrectly interpreted ambiguous statements.

At the start of the second page Michael writes:

“Or if this is a love story – and it is a love story, I swear – then why not begin where I first caught sight of Ellie standing in the dark fir tree of Gipsy’s Acre?”

Why not begin there? Well because that’s not the start of the love story – but the reader understandably believes that this is the story of Michael and Ellie when all the time it is that of Michael and Greta.

I feel that Christie gets just the right voice for Michael. On the surface, at least, he comes across as a bit of a jack-the-lad 60s chancer and put me in mind of Michael Caine as “Alfie” from the film version of Bill Naughton’s play. Caine would have been perfect for the rôle of Michael: initially as the working class young man trying to better himself in life, then as the charmer sweeping Ellie off her feet before being revealed as ruthless as Jack from “Get Carter” (breaks off to bring the opening credits up on YouTube: what a theme, the music mixing with the sound of the train as Jack sits reading “Farewell, My Lovely”).

The description of the episode in Hamburg, which we later learn is where he met Greta is cleverly done:

“It was when I was in Hamburg that things came to a crisis. For one thing. I took a violent dislike to the man and his wife I was driving…So I telephoned up the hotel, said I was ill and wired London saying the same thing…That rebellion in my life was an important turning-point in my life. Because of that and of other things, I turned up at the auction rooms on the appointed date.”

What were the other things alluded to by the bold type above? We know at the end that he met Greta – but it would be a rare reader who thought more about them at the time.

When she tells him her real name is Fenella he writes “I almost thought that she might have made it up! But of course I knew that was impossible.” How could he have known that for sure unless he had prior knowledge?

Whilst staying in London after the honeymoon and before moving into the house  we have this passage:

“Of course I didn’t look and sound right yet. But that didn’t matter much. I’d got the hang of it, enough so that I could pass muster with people like old Lippincott, and shortly, presumably when Ellie’s stepmother and uncles were around, but actually it wasn’t going to matter in the future at all. When the house was finished and we’d moved in, we were going to be far away everybody. It could be our kingdom. I looked at Greta sitting opposite me. I wondered what she’d really thought of our house. Anyway, it was what I wanted.”

The italics are mine and highlight which “we” Michael is thinking of but also the fact that come the end it didn’t matter which woman he was with – everything ultimately about what he personally wanted and never mind any one else.

When I first read this I was disappointed due to similarities to one of my favourite Christie’s. I felt that some things you could repeat and others you should not. However on re-reading I found that actually what we are reading here is the inside story of a different classic Christie, although with a different outcome, and this pleased me very much.