A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
The scene is Tokyo in 1936. During the political build up to their entry into WWII, Japan is gripped by a series of grotesque and baffling murders. Bodies are found in scattered locations all over Japan and mutilated in a way that suggests a strange mix of astrology and Japanese mythology.
A reclusive painter and amateur astrologist named Heikichi Umezawa is the only reasonable suspect. There is plenty of evidence to connect him to the murders, even a letter he wrote beforehand that sketches out the crimes in detail. The only problem is that Heikichi is not only one of the victims, he’s the first to have been killed. As the investigation proceeds, more confusing and contradictory evidence abounds. The case remains unsolved, an irresistible attraction for conspiracy theorists who blame everything from a Chinese spy ring to aliens.
Forty years later, Kiyoshi Mitarai, an astrologer and fortune teller who also fancies himself an amateur detective, stumbles on a new piece of evidence. He enlists the help of his friend, mystery novel aficionado Kazumi Ishioka, and the two comb through the available evidence and start making inquiries of their own. All the while Ishioka plays Watson to Mitarai’s Holmes.
Author Soji Shimada is one of Japan’s most prolific and well respected Mystery authors. His matter of fact narrative technique helps make The Tokyo Zodiac Murders great fun for those who like to try to solve the crime before the last chapter. Ishioka and Mitarai go over the evidence for us step by step. We are presented with maps, graphs, charts, and a few crucial documents. Towards the end Shimada even interrupts his narrative to personally taunt his readers with the evidence: “All of the information required to solve the mystery is now in your hands, and, in fact, the crucial hint has been provided already. I wonder if you noticed it?” While the violence and occult elements of this novel might not be for everyone, it should appeal to readers who love traditional mysteries with a challenging, twisted solution.
Review by Matthew