Translated by Ross MacKenzie and Shika MacKenzie
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?
I’m not a huge mystery person, but when I read one I want to be given all the clues up front. It really annoys me when an author holds back some essential bit of information that prevents you from figuring out the whodunit.
In that sense The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is perfect – everything you need is laid out in the first half of the book. The murders took place 40+ years prior to the narrative, so the set up is related secondhand. It got tediousness in places but the crime is so intriguing I was compelled to keep reading.
After this set up our duo heads off to Kyoto to hunt down some leads/red herrings. If you have never been to Japan or Kyoto a lot of the info here will feel like overkill – which train to take to which station, the weirdness that is Kyoto addresses, etc. I think that in the original, to a Japanese audience, it adds a layer of nostalgia. It’s fair to say that most people have been to Kyoto at some point in their lives, either on a school trip or to sightsee on their own. The name dropping of shrines, neighborhoods, and street corners brings back memories of being there yourself. To a foreign audience, however, it probably comes off as overly detailed and annoying.
I live in Kyoto now so I can forgive Shimada. A key turning point happens right in my neighborhood – that was creepy to read before bed!
The howdunit, more than the whodunit, made the ending satisfying for me. While the prose serves its purpose it never blew me away. That being said, I’m looking forward to reading another Shimada novel, though as this is his only(?) work translated into English, I’ll be doing it in the original Japanese.