The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada
Published by: Pushkin Vertigo
Fiction: Crime, Mystery
Rating: 4/5 stars
A bestselling and internationally-acclaimed masterpiece of the locked-room mystery genre.
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?
Born in 1948 in Hiroshima prefecture, Soji Shimada has been dubbed the ‘God of Mystery’ by international audiences. A novelist, essayist and short-story writer, he made his literary debut in 1981 with The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, which was shortlisted for the Edogawa Rampo Prize. Blending classical detective fiction with grisly violence and elements of the occult, he has gone on to publish several highly acclaimed series of mystery fiction, including the casebooks of Kiyoshi Mitarai and Takeshi Yoshiki.
In 2009, Shimada received the prestigious Japan Mystery Literature Award in recognition of his life’s work.
About the author:
Soji Shimada is a musician and writer on astrology and is best known as an author of over 100 mystery novels. After spending years as a dump truck driver, free writer, and musician, he made his debut as a mystery writer in 1981 when The Tokyo Zodiac Murders remained as a finalist in the Edogawa Rampo Prize. His works often involve themes such as the death penalty, Nihonjinron (his theory on the Japanese people), and Japanese and international culture.
Soji Shimada’s writing is all kinds of wit and trolling, lots of clever references to Japanese socio cultural incidents and wicked story telling. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders features a 40-year-old unsolved series of cold blooded and grisly murder that involves a lot of zodiac signs and metallurgy preceded by a locked room murder. The two main protagonists – Kiyoshi Mitarai, an astrologer and Kazumi Ishioka, a freelance illustrator; are presented duly as a pair akin to Sherlock and Watson, complete with Ishioka being the narrator who wants to prove he is as good as Mitarai.
Mystery investigations and thrillers today are all about fast action under an onslaught of clues and drama with twists serving as plot points. We also have psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators crowding for attention but this Shimada book is sheer delight in the way it entices readers to believe that they are part of the mystery solving team. There is an almost old school approach to the mystery solving but the pace never lags for there’s some heavy duty trolling of Sherlock Holmes and his sleuthing skills even as the nature of the investigations and process of elimination of suspects and clues follows the Sherlock style. Shimada even pulls in a Hitchcock stunt by directly entering the story and asking readers if we have solved the case!
During the turn of events in the case solving, there are references to an actual case of murder that made international headlines in Japan in the 1930s (and subject of a film later) that add as a note to readers on the socio milieu of Japan then. There is a lot of humor in the way the two protagonists interact with one another and the people around them that blunts the blood and gore and one almost wishes there is would be an onscreen adaptation of the book…it’s that good.
I am enthralled by Shimada and will definitely look up his other murder mysteries for sure.