The Inugami Curse (1951/2003) by Seishi Yokomizo tr. Yumiko Yamazaki

The last will and testament of Sahei Inugami is a complex affair, centred around Tomayo Nonomiya, a beautiful woman who Sahei brought into his family, much to the enmity of his actual family, his three mistresses and his three sons. Tomayo will have to choose one of the three sons – Také, Tomo or the scarred, mask-wearing Kiyo – to gain full control of Sahei’s fortune. It’s actually much more complex than that, with lots of conditions depending on who deceases who, and the inclusion of a beneficiary who has been missing for year, so needless to say, pretty soon the murders begin.

Sleuth Kosuke Kindaichi has been brought to the area by Sahei’s lawyer, concerned for Tomayo’s safety after several apparent attempts on her life even before the will is even read, but once that lawyer is poisoned, he feels duty bound to find the killer. But who is trying to benefit from the will and who needs to die before that benefit is seen? Or is the motive something even darker?

And so, following The Ginza Ghost, here’s my next attempt to get to the bottom of the honkaku genre. So far, my best reads in the genre have been basically “enjoyable, but…” but I was hopefully that this would exceed that. It is a translation that has been knocking around for years – the original was written in 1951 – but it was acquired and re-released by Pushkin Press following the success of the translation of The Honjin Murders. While that was a devilishly complex locked room mystery, this doesn’t have a locked room element to it. What it is, is a very traditionally structured mystery, in style at least.

There are a lot of things to like here. The murders are beautifully grotesque with an idea I hadn’t seen before – if you decapitate a body, you usually have to find the head, not the body – and the reader is constantly wrong-footed by certain familiar looking tropes. For example, we have the failed murder attempts on a character and someone returning from the war scarred with a mask on, neither of which exactly play out how you might expect. There’s a lot of original ideas knocking around here, from the set-up to the solution, and this is an incredibly readable and enjoyable book. This is probably a cultural thing given the time of writing, but there’s also a pleasant simple acceptance of homosexual and bisexual characters.

But… yeah, you knew this was coming, didn’t you. There are a few issues that I had with this one, although most of them were in hindsight, so if you don’t think back too much on a book after reading it, you should be fine. There are some plot holes you could drive a truck through – the pattern of killings, once you know what’s going on, makes no sense at all; and would someone really not realise…? There’s at least one aspect of the case, too, that if Kindaichi had thought about it, should have wrapped things up much more quickly, and I felt that aspect was too heavily leant on before being ignored for 100-plus pages… Oh, and it’s not really clued per se, it’s more of a guessing game, with certain characters not really given the page-space to be developed enough to be viable suspects.

There are some other issues with the text, some perhaps from the translation and some from the original structure. Some of the exposition seems to repeat itself quite quickly, and there’s an odd choice of word in a few places that doesn’t quite fit what I think the meaning is supposed to be. One section in particular comes across as having a romantic undertone which is really odd given what had been revealed a couple of chapters previous with regard to a different character.

All in all though, despite it’s flaws, this is probably the best honkaku/shin honkaku title I’ve read bar The Decagon House Murders as it’s a page turner and full of clever ideas, subverting expectations. Definitely worth a look.


    • The thing is, this is a genre that as it aspires to the puzzle plot, I should enjoy. I’m almost as interested in working out why it doesn’t generally click for me…


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