Crime Mystery

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders – Soji Shimada

11 November 2018
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders Book Cover The Tokyo Zodiac Murders
Murder Mystery
Pushkin Vertigo
17 September 2015

Japan, 1936. An old eccentric artist living with seven women has been found dead- in a room locked from the inside. His diaries reveal alchemy, astrology and a complicated plan to kill all seven women. Shortly afterwards, the plan is carried out: the women are found dismembered and buried across rural Japan.

By 1979, these Tokyo Zodiac Murders have been obsessing a nation for decades, but not one of them has been solved. A mystery-obsessed illustrator and a talented astrologer set off around the country - and you follow, carrying the enigma of the Zodiac murderer through madness, missed leads and magic tricks. You have all the clues, but can you solve the mystery before they do?

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is a unique and intriguing murder mystery set in the same vein as a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The master and the assistant, the master coaching the assistant through the clues while never totally revealing his thoughts until the end. The genre belongs to the Japanese ‘honkaku’ subgenre which focuses on plotting and clues. As a whodunit puzzle, it is a very well structured plot, with a locked room scenario questioning how a killer committed a murder and then escaped from a room locked on the inside. Then additional murders were attributed to the victim even though he was dead at the time of those deaths. We’re never quite sure what the motive really was or the number of killers and Shimada does a great job keeping this hidden while not affecting the story. There are multiple clues and multiple red-herrings in the detail, but sifting through is a real puzzle and challenge for the reader.

Let me set the scene. A ‘Last Will and Testament’ is found with the dead body of an artist, Heikichi Umezawa, in Tokyo 1936. He claims in the Will to be possessed by the devil and dreams of the perfect woman.

“Following the terminology of alchemy, I shall call her Azoth, which means “From A to Z” – the ultimate creation, the universal life force. She fulfil my dreams completely.”

To create his perfect woman, he requires 6 different body parts: the head, the chest, the abdomen, the hips, the thighs and the legs, each from a different woman. Heikichi has 1 daughter to his first wife, 3 stepdaughters and 1 daughter to his second wife, and 2 nieces. The devil is apparently telling him to sacrifice 6 of these young women, the eldest stepdaughter is too old, to create Azoth from the separate parts. The plan introduces alchemy, astrology and geography, defined in great detail, especially at the start of the book. The most baffling aspect of the case is that the plan is implemented perfectly but after Heikichi’s death.

For over 40 years this has remained one of Japan’s most infamous, studied and elusive cases, which has been investigated by numerous professional detectives and amateur sleuths. No-one has solved the riddle of – who, how, why?

In similar Sherlock Holmes style, 43 years later, Kiyoshi Mitarai and Kazumi Ishioka (Holmes and Watson) embark on solving the case. Kiyoshi has his idiosyncrasies and deeply meditative episodes, while Kazumi is the industrious partner who is smart enough to follow leads and have sound opinions but is missing the crucial connections and insights that Sherlock, sorry Kiyoshi has.

The facts of the case are delivered as a dialogue between Kiyoshi and Kazumi which enables detail and anticipated questions to be aired and discussed by an enquiring Kazumi. The plot will certainly appeal to an analytical mind. At 74% into the book, the author directly reaches out to the reader and challenges them to solve the mystery and identify the killer. Stating that he has now provided all the clues necessary. From this point on the solution will be revealed.

The structure of the novel was a new one for me and very refreshing. I highly recommend this book, especially for the puzzle solvers. Enjoy the puzzle, it is a very unique and interesting plot.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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