A clever, meta little Japanese murder mystery, first published in 1946, by a man who was apparently a huge fan of the western Golden Age mystery. This is the first book in the Kosuke Kindaichi series that he wrote dozens of novels for. Kindaichi-san is very unlike his British counterparts, Poirot, Wimsey, or even Marple. He’s very young, and a bit of a slob, but he has a mind for mysteries. Here, he is brought to the scene of a wedding where the bride and groom were murdered, on their first night as a married couple. The bride was the niece of Kindaichi’s patron.
The particulars of the murder don’t really matter, although you should know the hook here is that it’s a locked room mystery in which the detective realizes he’s in a locked room mystery. What sets this little book apart is the style its told in, that of the Honkaku mystery, or Japaneze puzzle mystery, a format that Seishi Yokomizo helped to popularize. I spent all last weekend reading up on Honkaku, and adding the popular ones to my TBR. I feel very upset that I did not know about it sooner. I don’t even remember how I heard about this book, or who put it on my radar. I am, however, very excited that this publisher seems to be slowly put out one or two translated from the author’s extensive back catalogue since 2019. One is due out later this year. I did the Audible version, which had Akira Matsumoto as narrator. I was super into his narration, as he has both a British accent, and impeccable Japanese pronunciation.
Anyway, so the style here. It’s very conversational. The book is told first person point of view with an unnamed narrator who appears to be either a writer of mysteries, or someone who writes about crime, telling us the story of the murder and how it was solved after the fact. This allows him to supposedly have conducted interviews, done his research, and put together diagrams and pictures (which I couldn’t see in the audio version, unfortunately), and which he frequently refers to. These are important because one of the promises of Honkaku is that the reader has all the clues to work out the mystery themselves, no tricks. The narrator frequently makes these lovely little asides (that I see other people disliking for some reason) about Japanese culture, or architecture, character backstories, etc. Almost as if the author wanted the same audience of his beloved Western mystery novels to be able to enjoy them (well, it happened seventy years later!) despite cultural differences. It also gives you the feeling of a kindly but mischievous teacher.
For being written in 1946, this was surprisingly not as dated as I expected. There are several elements of the characters’ lives and the plot which will be alien to most modern readers, but the style the book is written in sort of negates it because it feels like we are just being told a tale from the past, even if that past is much further away than the author originally intended. It gives it a sort of ageless quality. SPOILER Although, yikes to the motive of the murders being SUPER sexist END SPOILER.
I put the next two books on my TBR for later this year soon after finishing this one, and am very much looking forward to them.