The honjin murders by Seishi Yokomizo (Pushkin)

“Before recording the strange history that follows, I felt I ought to take a look at the house where such a gruesome murder was committed.”

THERE is a masterly, writerly opening to this classic Japanese crimo. Yokomizo introduces himself as the crime writer who stumbles over a real life murder. It is a locked-room-murder theme, he tells us straightaway, styled after the author of that rather clunky phrase John Dickson Carr and followed also by other crime writers of the genre Gaston Leroux, Maurice LeBlanc, S.S. Van Dine and Roger Scarlett who have told similar Cluedo-esque tales. But none them, he tells us, can quite have imagined what happened at this honjin, an old tavern exclusively reserved for royalty and aristocracy. Later there is an interesting discovery of a library of detective books which also reference other writers of the pre-war genre.

So we proceed to the wedding from hell with a certain Japanese scrupulous focus on the gory but also a scrupulous forensic unpacking of the detective work; almost an algorithm of minutiae of process. This locked-room has secrets. These people have ancestry. This valley is full of gossip.

“There’s a suspicious smell in the air and it is getting right up my nose,” declares the uncle

Enter the unlikely looking detective Kosuke Kindaicho (whom this blog has met in a later incarnation here). Yokomizo acknowledges he has based him on his favorite British author AA Milne’s Anthony Gillingham in the popular Red House Mystery, a 1922 book (written more than decade before the locked-room epithet was coined and Milne’s only mystery story). This honjin has also been painted red.

Kosuke is the master of logic and reason, a Sherlock Holmes in a splash pattern dyed hakama with a stammer. And almost as eccentic. There are more than a few Holmes accents here including Kosuke’s drug use plus his magical powers of deduction.

Suspicions swirl. Each chapter has its own thesis as the evidence is slowly unravelled. The conclusion is complicated, but with nods to both Sherlock and to Agatha Christie. The cover photo above is from the Japanese version, both a clue and a red herring in itself.


About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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