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?
Title: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders | Author: Soji Shimada | Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo | Pub. Date: 1 December 1981 | Pages: 320 | ISBN: 9781782271383 | Genre: Horror/Mystery | Language: English | Starred Review: Yes | Source: Self purchase
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders Review
‘The Tokyo Zodiac Murders’ is (as the title kind of suggests) a weird, Japanese horror/crime novel. It’s part head scratching mystery, part gruesome serial killer chiller and a lot of fun from first page to last. Written in the early 80s, it was the first novel by popular author Soji Shimada who went on to write dozens of other books. Sadly, not many of them have been translated into English, but I’ll certainly be checking out the ones that have been.
The novel follows two friends, one the narrator, the other a brilliant amateur detective. The pair are investigating three related crimes against members of the same family. One a classic locked room killing, one a brutal rape/murder and the last the serial slaughter of six sisters.
The investigating duo set-up is one that will be familiar to anyone who has read Sherlock Holmes and it works well here. Shimada goes so far as to acknowledge the debt he owes Conan Doyle in a hilarious scene where sleuth Kiyoshi Mitarai details his many problems with the Holmes mysteries. Shimada also borrows Conan Doyle’s tendency to make the mysterious seem supernatural, with the murders of the six sisters related to the construction of an astrological effigy, Azoth. This book is far grislier than most mysteries, with a level of violence and graphic detail that moves it firmly into horror genre. The denouement in particular is absolutely horrific.
More than anything though, this is a book for mystery lovers. Shimada is clearly one himself and delights in littering the story with clues. Much of the fun of the book comes from sleuthing along with the detectives, trying to piece the many parts of the puzzle together. Shimada includes diagrams and Agatha Christie style summaries of the facts of the case to help armchair detectives. Deliciously, he also throws in a couple of “have you figured it out yet” interludes where he addresses the reader directly.
If that appeals and you fancy something that will keep you guessing whilst it thrills and horrifies, ‘The Tokyo Zodiac Murders’ is definitely worth a try.
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