REVIEW: The Honjin Murders

I love a good crime novel. I am also rather partial to Japanese literature. So when I found this, on Amazon I believe, I could not resist.

Seishi Yokomizo is one of Japan’s most revered crime novelists and also one of the most prolific. The Honjin Murders introduces Yokomizo’s much-loved amateur detective Kosuke Kindaichi.

There are a staggering 77 books in the Kindaichi series. They have total sales of 55 million copies and many of them have been dramatised for stage and screen. Even if they were all translated into English, which they haven’t been, it would take me a long time to get through that lot.

The Honjin Murders was originally published in serial form in a magazine during 1946. Two years later it won the inaugural Mystery Writers of Japan Award. It was adapted into film in 1976 but it wasn’t until 2019 that it was translated into English for the first time by Louise Heal Kawai.

The book is set in the winter of 1937 in a village called Okamura where a rich family called Ichiyanagi are preparing for the wedding of the head of the family. But rumours in the village say a strange, masked man have been asking questions about the family and after the ceremony has taken place and everyone has gone to bed, there is a piercing scream from the annexe of the main house and the sound of strange music.

The bride and groom have been brutally killed and the only clue is a Samurai sword, covered in blood and stuck in pristine snow outside the building. Local police start an investigation but a wedding guest is a friend of amateur sleuth Kindaichi and calls him in to see if he can crack the case.

This is a classic locked room crime story. Who did it? And how? Quite clearly there are no footprints in the snowfall so how did the bloodied sword get stuck in the ground outside?

This is a great translation and although the book was first written nearly 80 years ago, it is just as accessible as if it was written recently.

There are plenty of red herrings, lots of twists and turns and and interesting array of characters and alibis to work your way through before the mystery is finally solved.

I learnt something too. I had absolutely no idea that AA Milne, of Winnie the Pooh fame, had written adult fiction. No clue whatsoever. But our narrator in The Honjin Murders talks about another amateur detective Antony Gillingham of The Red House Mystery by his favourite English author AA Milne. I looked it up and it is true. AA Milne did write this crime novel and it is still in print. I bought it and am very much looking forward to reading it.

The Honjin Murders is a classic murder mystery and a great read. The solution to the mystery is ingenious but I enjoyed the false turns along the way too.

I can find another three Seishi Yokomizo books on Amazon with a fourth available for pre-order and out at the end of June next year. Maybe one should go on my Christmas list?

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