So many books – so many thoughts. How can I keep up with the production line? The solution is at hand …… who says these blogs all need to be a certain length? At the end of the day it is just a “log” and I seem to remember some of those Captain’s Logs were quite short! So this is the first mini blog. Great excuse.
The Honjin Murders. The beginning of a whole new universe for me. Having read a few tantalising reviews of various honkaku and shin honkaku novels, I was eager to dive in and sample. I was, however, slightly nervous. Had I selected the right entry point?
The story is told some considerable time after the events in question. The period is pre-WWII Japan and the perspective is post war (and post-Hiroshima and Nagasaki). There is a mention of the bombs – very fleeting and quite chilling in its brevity. But apart from this tragic reference, the rest of the book is an absolute hoot from start to finish (yes – believe me). We have the death of a bride and bridegroom on their wedding night in somewhat violent fashion in an isolated annex… and, set to ghostly music! We have snow and only a few footprints …..just to help the impossibility along. The murder weapon (a samurai sword) has been left thrust in the ground. We have a dysfunctional cast of characters, family and class struggles, drunken uncles and a mysterious three fingered stranger. Into this heady mix walks the amateur detective Kosuke Kindaichi, a scruffy former drug addict who learned his sleuthing trade in the US; definitely cut from the Holmes cloth.
This is a slender, very clearly written book. The narrative moves along in an even manner – just enough plot mixed in with the various squabbles and tensions to make this a real page-turner. I also have to say this is an incredibly reader-friendly novel. The physical product itself is nicely produced and we have a useful map and cast list of characters. I referred to this several times: I guess it must have been necessary! Throughout the book various traditions, historical points and some of the aspects of the design of the house and the purpose of certain items are concisely explained. I can only assume these parts were in the original book and not added by the translator. Either way, this really helped this reader understand the context: it’s almost as if they knew this was my first honkaku.
Despite being what one might suppose a “world away” from golden age British and US detective fiction both geographically and culturally, put aside all the names, locations and surface detail and this is pure, puzzle, impossible crime in the grand tradition. It is nicely clued, fair (-ish), packed with a range of red herrings, plenty of misdirection, a denouement that is very satisfying (I failed to get any of the who, what, why or how) and an explanation that is – quite simply – bananas.
Yokomizo has clearly been inspired by western golden age authors such as Christie and John Dickson Carr. One of his characters is a superfan and there are shout-outs to various classics of the genre. The nods to the western golden age, however, don’t need to be stated: they are lovingly threaded throughout this gem.
So that’s a strong recommendation and I am looking forward to reading the other Yokomizo in this series. The cupboard seems to be bare thereafter so someone needs to get translating fast….please?