Advanced Japanese Book Club // Next: アンダーグラウンド

本陣殺人事件

Author : 横溝正史 (Seishi Yokomizo)

Summary

Japanese

江戸時代からの宿場本陣の旧家、一柳家。その婚礼の夜に響き渡った、ただならぬ人の悲鳴と琴の音。離れ座敷では新郎新婦が血まみれになって、惨殺されていた。枕元には、家宝の名琴と三本指の血痕のついた金屏風が残され、一面に降り積もった雪は、離れ座敷を完全な密室にしていた……。アメリカから帰国した金田一耕助の、初登場作品となる表題作ほか、「車井戸はなぜ軋る」「黒猫亭事件」の二編を収録。

English

Story:
On 25 November 1937, at a former honjin in Okayama, the wedding of Kenzou Ichiyanagi and Katsuko Kubo is held. The celebrants include the mother Itoko, the third son Saburo, the second daughter Suzuko, the cousin Ryousuke, and Ginzo Kubo, Katsuko’s uncle. During the ceremony, Suzuko plays the koto, and everything ends without incident.

Later that night, the wild sound of the koto is heard across the mansion. Ginzo rushes to the newly wedded couple’s bedroom, only to find the couple killed in a brutal fashion. A Japanese sword is later found thrust into the ground in the middle of the garden, with no footprints on the surrounding thick snow, creating a perfect locked room mystery.

Background:
The novel introduces Kosuke Kindaichi, a popular fictional detective who featured in seventy-seven Yokomizo mysteries. In it, he solves a locked-room mystery murder that takes place in an isolated mansion (honjin) blanketed in snow. Yokomizo had read classic Western detective novels extensively, and the novel makes allusions to John Dickson Carr, Gaston Leroux, and others, with several mentions of Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room as an emblematic locked-room mystery. Though writing a noir and sometimes graphic murder mystery, Yokomizo worked within the tradition of literary Japanese aesthetics. He frequently paused to include lyrical descriptions of nature, the mansion, and the characters. The novel provides a detailed sense of place, including repeated references to cardinal directions and a detailed sketch of the murder scene. Koto music, instruments, and implements play a recurring role in the case.

In addition to the central mystery, Yokomizo uses the story to illuminate the traditions, customs, and agrarian rhythm of rural Japan in the early twentieth century as well as anxieties about changing class distinctions. The omniscient narrator, in an aside to the “Gentle reader,” explains that the word “lineage, which has all but fallen out of usage in the city, is even today alive and well in rural villages like this one,” and the killer’s motive is revealed to relate to an obsession with traditional concepts of honor and family bloodlines.

Length : 407 pages in 3 stories; the main story is 199 pages
Category : Fast/Hard

Availability

Amazon paperback
Amazon Kindle
Bookwalker

Personal Opinion

Wikipedia claims that many people regard this story as one of the best Japanese detective novels. I find it very appealing that the story also seems to include lots of information about the lives of the people at that time. The story was written in 1946, when Japan was on the cusp of groundbreaking reforms (kanji reform, land reform) and I’m curious to see how much of that spirit is already reflected in the story.

Pros and Cons for the Book Club

Pros

  • Decorated book (won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1948)
  • Said to be one of the best Japanese detective novels
  • Not only the story but also lots of background information
  • If we find it too hard to read at a fast pace (see the cons below) we can decide to only read the main story at a slower pace.

Cons

  • Written in 1946, so the language might still be a little bit old-fashioned
  • Not only the story but also lots of background information (might feel long-winding?)
    • @rodan explained: “Yokomizo is just very precise and dense with detail and spends a lot of time explaining situations with very specialized vocabulary” (which might make it harder to read for many of us, I guess)
  • Yet Another Detective Story™ :innocent:

Pictures

First Three Pages of Chapter One

Additional Pages

Difficulty Poll

How much effort would you need to read this book?

  • No effort at all
  • Minimal effort
  • Moderate effort
  • Significant effort
  • So much effort my head might explode
  • I don’t know

0 voters

7 Likes