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The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Pushkin Vertigo) Paperback – September 15, 2015
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From Publishers Weekly
'The great Soji Shimada virtually invented the "logic problem" sub-genre.' - Guardian Top 10 Locked Room Mysteries (No. 2)
'Intricately constructed and entertainingly exotic.' - The Japan Times
- ASIN : 1782271384
- Publisher : Pushkin Vertigo; Reprint edition (September 15, 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781782271383
- ISBN-13 : 978-1782271383
- Item Weight : 8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #94,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Like most first in a series books, there are some extreme strengths with one absolutely glaring weakness. The puzzle construction and the solution are ingenious, and they are not gimmicky once explained (there is no miracles and it is possible to work out the solution upon concentrated reading). The two issues with this book that I have which detract from the score even given the first try are the pacing of the plot (which the first section can actually get someone to quit the book before it actually starts, and this is a bug not a feature) and the eventual detective is not well-developed to the point that it fails the fair play test of detective motivation (the reader should be able to sympathize with the motives of why the detective solves the crime if not empathize with the detective's motives). There is no particular reason why this detective actually solves the case, and in terms of later narrative, the detective self-contradicts himself about the reasons that he undertakes the matter.
Mild spoilers follow:
For an orthodox mystery, I appreciate the fair play, but I actually do not care for the unconventional telling of the story. The order of the story is not temporal, and honestly, there's a better story in this book if it were rearranged in chronological order ending in failure before success. Shimada focuses too much on the construction of the puzzle to the detriment of the narrative, and there are two sections where this is extremely apparent. Act I - Scene 1 is gratuitous, and I can see readers abandoning the book right then and there as without the context of the plot, nothing is worth paying attention to and it is irrelevant to the events.
The best locked room mysteries are worth a reread, and this one certainly fits the bill. However, try rereading it in this order:
Act I - A Police Confession, then Scene 2, Scene 3, Scene 5
Act II - Scene 1 and 2
Act I - Scene 1
Act II - Entracte
then the rest in book presentation order. I really think the material is excellent but not necessarily edited by the original publisher in a compelling presentable order. I really wish that the narrative followed the failed detective before the present day.
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is a classic example of the popular Japanese honkaku subgenre of murder mysteries which focuses on plotting and clues. The author gives all the clues to the reader, analyzes and discusses them openly, and gives the reader time to solve the mystery before the solution is given at the end of the book.
Set in Tokyo, Japan, Kiyoshi Mitarai is a freelance photographer who loves solving murder mysteries and engages an unusual, eccentric astrologer/amateur sleuth and friend Kiyoshi to solve the forty-year-old mystery, which has obsessed and eluded police, criminologists, amateur detectives, and ordinary citizens for forty years! Solving this case was a national preoccupation. (Please remember, this is a work of fiction.)
In 1936, miserable human being and painter Heikichi Umezawa is found murdered in his studio which is locked and padlocked from the inside. Bars are set securely on the windows. It appears that the roof is secure. Two sets of footprints left in the snow lead away from the studio. But, how could anyone exit leaving the door locking system in place? Umezawa's secret journal, containing damning information, is found at the crime scene and sets the tone and focus of the story. Two other sets of murders follow shortly after. Who could possibly have committed these horrendous acts? Has Umezawa reached out from the grave to fulfill his dream? Is he, in fact, really dead? Forty years later, the quest for the answers has never abated.
The mystery engages, although the details often become tedious and very mathematical. If you love math, latitude, longitude, astrological signs and their physical, metal, and color attributions, you will be enthralled. Astrology and the occult play a big part in the murders and the pursuant investigations. The author spends way too much time explaining the solution from different points of view. Still, anyone who loves to play detective will enjoy this book and this genre. Hints: The cover offers a clue which may be easy to overlook. Watch out for red herrings. Don't believe everyone's assumptions.
If you want more of this genre, go to the Locked Room International website (lockedroominternational.com or mylri.com for more English language versions of locked -room mysteries from all over the world.
If you're a mystery fan, this should be part of your reading experience, and we can hope that the author's other mystery will also be translated into English.
The only difficulty was relating to a different culture. As an American, I had trouble keeping track of the character names and locations in Japan. On the other hand, if I were to change the locations & characters to a more familiar English settings, it made for a wonderful story.
This just proved to me of my own ignorance instead of the author's brilliance.
I highly recommend to any lover of mysteries, especially if you enjoy a challenge and are willing expand your horizons.
Top reviews from other countries
This story is set in Tokyo in 1979 when an amateur detective and his friend reinvestigate the series of murders from 1936 which included an artist and seven female members of his family, including 2 nieces, 3 step-daughters and 2 daughters. The youngest 6 women are discovered dismembered and buried across Japan at sites with some astrological significance in an incidence known as the 'Tokyo Zodiac Murders'. The artist had penned a bizarre treatise about carrying out such a plan for his own reasons, but he is murdered prior to the women, so he couldn't have done it, or could he?? His murder occurred in strange circumstances in a locked room. Kazume Ishioka asks his friend and amateur sleuth Kiyoshi Mitarai to investigate.
The books is written almost as if it were a true event being re-opened rather than a novel, which it is. It starts with the rambling and very detailed astrological treatise and plan of the artist, Heikichi Umezawa, to recreate an ancient Japanese goddess from the body parts of his female family members. Mad stuff, but a compelling insight into the logic of his mind. It then details the murders and the reinvestigation. It is unsettling and gruesome in parts, but compelling nonetheless.
The solution is clever, but the plot ultimately a bit contrived. However, it is still worthy of high praise because of its unique style and ingenuity. I definitely will read others in this series, and would recommend this to anyone with a devious mind and a strong stomach.
The fact that all the clues needed to solve the mystery are actually provided relatively early on is clever and subtle but this does ultimately mean the intervening sections between set-up and resolution offer relatively little, apart from building the character of the more endearing narrator who tries to complete his own detective work whilst brain-ache is doing whatever he’s doing.
I have no shame in admitting I needed a few minutes to put the book down to check and re-check the details in my mind but it definitely holds water and offers a truly satisfying solution to the mystery it establishes.
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 fulfils my dreams completely."
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 3 stepdaughters to his second wife, 1 daughter to his first wife and 1 daughter to his second wife and 2 nieces. The devil is telling him to sacrifice 6 of these young women, the eldest stepdaughter is too old, and he must create Azoth from the separate parts. The plan introduces alchemy, astrology and geography, defined in great detail. The most baffling aspect of the case is that the plan is implemented perfectly, after Heikichi’s death.
For over 40 years this has remained one of Japan’s most infamous and studied cases, that has been investigated by 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 challenges the reader to solve the mystery and identify the killer, stating that he has now provided all the clues. From this point on the solution will be revealed.
Enjoy the puzzle it is a very unique and interesting plot.
I kept thinking that I had worked out who the killer was and even the motive very early in the story but it just didn't seem possible because of the "facts" given. When it turned out that I was right after all and the explanation was given as to how it was possible I was both happy and impressed. I would certainly recommend this to anyone who likes mysteries.