Following their wedding, Kenzo the eldest son of the Ichiyanagi family, and his new bride Katsuko, retire to a small annex within the family compound. In the early hours of the morning, the sounds of screams, followed by the strings of a Koto being plucked wildly, are heard coming from the annex. Kenzo and Katsuko are found dead, all of the doors and windows of the annex closed and locked, and the bloodied katana sword used to kill them is outside, surrounded by pristine snow.
Katsuko’s uncle Ginzo is certain that someone in the Ichiyanagi family knows more than they are saying and sends for his friend, the famous private detective Kosuke Kindaichi, to investigate.
This is my very first Honkaku mystery—and I loved it! It was so intriguing having all of the characteristics of a Golden Age mystery but in such a different setting. The story is told years after by an “author of detective novels”, who has been told of the murders by someone directly related to the case. This unnamed narrator is surely our author Yokomizo, and his love of Golden Age mysteries and their influence on his own writing shines through with every word.
Kosuke Kindaichi, is not your classic Golden Age detective. With his wrinkled haori and kimono, worn geta clogs, and shapeless hat, he is “a young man in the prime of life he seemed shockingly indifferent to his appearance.” Kindaichi is filled with quirks, stammering when excited, scratching his tousle-haired head when thinking,. He has a contagious enthusiasm that jumps from the page.
In short, this is just an excellent locked room mystery. It’s a quick and concise read, and yet filled with vivid detail of the crime scene, surrounding landscape, and Japanese social hierarchy which is essential to the plot. And that plot is well crafted and fascinating. Western detective fiction is integral to the plot, and references to Carr, Queen, Doyle, Leroux, and Christie are liberally sprinkled throughout. Yokomizo lays all of the clues out for the reader, but there are plenty of red herrings, resulting in an intricate mystery that will baffle even the best read mystery fan.
Entertaining, engrossing, and highly recommended.
My Judgment – 4.25/5
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2013 Scattergories – #33 International Detectives