The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo and Louise Heal Kawai (translator)

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The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo and Louise Heal Kawai (translator)

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Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A book that goes off the boil slightly from its wonderfully peculiar premise, but that still certainly can deliver for genre fans.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: December 2019
Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo
ISBN: 978-1782275008

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To many readers, the phrase 'locked room murder mystery' is enough to make the book one to read; preferably quantified by the words 'clever' or 'good'. For those who need more, here is the extra background – we're in rural Japan in the 1930s. The oldest son of an esteemed family is belatedly getting married, although the whole affair is really not as ostentatious as it might be – hardly anybody has turned up, what with it being arranged at great haste. She only has an uncle representing her family, for one thing. Either way, the celebrations have gone ahead as planned, only for the wedded couple to be slashed to death in their private annex before the sun rises on their marriage. What with a man missing parts of his fingers being in the neighbourhood, and some mysterious use of a traditional musical instrument at the time of the crime, this case has a lot of the peculiar about it.

The whole book has a peculiar aspect to it, namely that this classic of Japanese crime, published immediately post-WW2, has never been in English before now. That's not to say it's an outstanding, brilliant success, but it is still a little remarkable that nobody thought to translate it for fans of the genre. For one thing, it's almost meta in its discussion of similar books on the shelf – can internal mechanisms for trapping the victims be counted as a flaw in the plot's construction, and so on. There's a charged comment here and there about devotees of crime writing, I'm sure.

And you could also say having the private investigator (a young man that said uncle has bankrolled) an ex-drug addict, is a riff on Sherlock Holmes' opium habits. Not that he's like Holmes in any other manner – forever ruffling up his unkempt hair, caring so little for his clothes he makes Vera Stanhope look a supermodel, and even stammering routinely. What I also found a peculiar aspect here was that the young man was deemed so likeable he could be given no less than 76 sequels.

As for this adventure, well it certainly had a relishable premise, and more or less fine execution. It doesn't belabour its kinship with other similar books, for that would restrict it only to those readers that were very much in the know. At the same time, I did feel a few secrets of the plot were guessable – but I was not so accurate in the way I got ahead of it all that the book suffered. What I ended up feeling, however, was that the book was just one short stage from being a classic. Books like this obviously have a read-once quality, but this was a little short of the panache of the best, and the most clever. (That for me would remain the same publisher's Murder in the Crooked House.) It was still certainly a good read, however.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Lady Killer by Masako Togawa and Simon Grove (translator) is a very different look at J-crime. If that's the term.


Buy The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo and Louise Heal Kawai (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo and Louise Heal Kawai (translator) at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo and Louise Heal Kawai (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo and Louise Heal Kawai (translator) at Amazon.com.


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