Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada Review

Pre-war Japan. A deranged artist called Heikichi Umezawa claims to be possessed by the Devil. He plans one final masterwork: the creation of Azoth, the supreme woman. How to make her? Chop up the bodies of his six daughters, selecting their most perfect parts, and stitching the pieces together into a whole. 

But before he can begin, he’s brutally murdered. A few days later the six daughters are also killed and their bodies chopped up, per Umezawa’s plan. Who killed Umezawa? Who killed the six girls? And if Azoth, the supreme woman, was created where is she? 40 years pass and astrologer detective Kiyoshi Mitarai is joined by our narrator Ishioka to solve the mystery in a week - who was behind the Tokyo Zodiac Murders? 

Soji Shimada’s detective novel is pretty good for the first half, pretty bad for the second. While I enjoyed the first half, it’s a bit artlessly written - the Holmesian Mitarai and the Watson-esque Ishioka are literally sat in a room telling the reader through their discourse the details of the crime. But it’s morbidly interesting stuff and the locked room mystery aspect to it is tantalising. 

Things get a bit bogged down in the second half as Shimada tries to bring it all together. Mitarai and Ishioka separate while the reader is stuck with Ishioka as he follows numerous red herrings, waiting for Mitarai to reappear and tell us whodunit. And when he does, he irritatingly milks the attention for all its worth in the final quarter, stopping and starting to gloat. Shimada doesn’t help by literally intruding the narrative (twice!) to encourage the reader to try and figure it out themselves. 

That’s because Tokyo Zodiac is part of the honkaku (“authentic”) genre of detective fiction where the clues are laid out in the text which supposedly gives the reader all they need to solve the case themselves. Diagrams, maps, etc. pepper the book. Except given the utterly convoluted explanation, I’m not sure that’s entirely true of this novel. I didn’t spend any time thinking about it and just went with the story! And then it turns out to be an unsatisfying reveal anyway. 

I didn’t hate the novel because the first half effortlessly held my attention but it’s not a great detective story for the weak conclusion. Still, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders isn’t a bad creepy mystery story that some crime fans might enjoy. I’d recommend it with the caveat to lower expectations going in to maybe get more out of it.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

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