占星術殺人事件 ~ The Astrology Murder Case

In 1936 a terrible murder shook all of Japan. Wealthy family head Umezawa Heikichi had been murdered within his secluded private home on a night of a terrible snow storm. Everything was carried out so intricately that it became a perfect locked room.
But that was not all, as they found a shocking document hidden in one of his drawers, detailing the creation of the perfect being, his Azoth, by killing and sacrificing his relatives through complicated alchemistic methods. And only a few weeks later, murders happened following the plot of Heikichi’s script.

This became known as the Umezawa Astrology Murders and was to become a challenge for both the police forces and hobby detectives throughout all of Japan. Until today nobody was able to solve the mystery how not only Heikichi’s murderer dissolved into thin air, but also how 6 girls were chopped up and buried all over Japan.

Did his plan succeed, did Heikichi fake his death, was it a government plot, was there a fake corpse, was the Azoth really created? More and more questions and theories piled up, but the truth remains shrouded in the fog of the past. 

Shimada Kiyoshi’s senseijutsusatsujinjiken or how it was later called in the US, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, is until today regarded as one of the inciting forces to the modern shin honkaku movement.
It becomes clear very early how this novel and this author should become such a major influence only some years later. He took many elements that had amassed over time in the genre of detective fiction and joined them into something that felt new and fresh, yet it did not immediately get the recognition it deserved.

His detective is nothing what was known to Japanese detective fiction at that point. In shakai-ha it was a professional detective who solved the cases, but Shimada revived the ideals of the Golden Age detectives. Heavily influenced by Sherlock Holmes and his heirs, his hobby-detective Mitarai Kiyoshi is a snotty, arrogant fortune-teller who does not believe in the absolute power of modern police investigation, but relies only on logic and deduction. He is one of the role models of the detectives to come.
His way of telling the story was new as well. The story of crime is, at the point of the story of investigation, 40 years in the past. This might come of as a spoiler, yet it becomes apparent on the first few pages, but there is no real story of crime in this book. We experience everything through the eyes of Watsonian companion Ishioka and it is all investigation.

Now this brings up the question, is this a good book?
It’s a tough question to answer for me. The case was well constructed, the investigation was interesting and I felt with everyone involved in the end, yet something was missing and it really feels like an early stage of something bigger that is now already here.
The fact that there is no actual story of crime happening, just investigation of things in the past, makes the whole novel lacking in suspense. I never actually feared for anything to happen, because even if there was still a culprit, he would be at least 60 by then, if not dead. Those thoughts made it hard to actually keep being interested in what happened.

In the end it was a pure matter of exercising one’s brain and being placed in the role of an armchair detective. When it entered into the 2nd act of the plot it got more and more tedious to actually keep being interested in who they were interrogating now and what strange new theories they might be discussing. Today this would be something that could have been done in half the space or with more action involved.

The only thing that actually moved me was the almost tear-jerking climax on the last 30 pages. But you have to read that for yourself.

Yes, normally I’m not the one to call for action, but in this case it became really dry after a while, especially because there was never a feeling of dread or tension. So, as something that was later to become the genesis of modern detective fiction in Japan I recognize the importance of this novel and I do not regret reading it, especially because it became a major influence for Ayatsuji Yukito. Still, from todays standards I would have to criticize it’s rather dry and factual approach to something that could have been much more.
Yet, I’m still interested in how Shimada went on with this style and if he evolved in a way, because his plot and characters were really interesting and hadn’t it been for his vivid writing I might have never finished this novel.

Advertisements

~ by seizonsha on 2010/07/25.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: