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review 2017-10-22 03:27
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada, translation by Ross and Shika Mackenzie
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Pushkin Vertigo) - Shika MacKenzie,Soji Shimada,Ross MacKenzie

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders starts off with a “last will and testament” written by Heikichi Umezawa in 1936. In this document, he detailed his belief that he is possessed and how he came to the realization that killing six of his daughters and nieces would solve his problems. Using their zodiac signs as a guide, he’d take one body part from each young woman and construct Azoth, the perfect woman.

The story then fast forwards to about 40 years later. Kazumi, a mystery fan, is describing the facts of the Tokyo Zodiac Murders to his friend Kiyoshi, an astrologer and occasional detective. The six young women were, in fact, killed and mutilated in the manner described in Heikichi’s will, but Heikichi couldn’t possibly have done it: he’d been dead for several days prior to the murders. In addition to Heikichi’s murder and the Azoth murders, one of Heikichi’s other stepdaughters was also killed. No one is sure whether that murder was related to the others or not.

After Kiyoshi takes on a client with a distant but potentially embarrassing connection to the case, Kiyoshi and Kazumi end up with a one-week deadline to solve a mystery that no one else has managed to solve in 40 years. Diagrams included throughout the text invite readers to solve the mystery along with them.

If you like trying to solve mysteries before a book’s fictional detective does, you really need to give this a try. It’s an excellent puzzle, and the author even interjects a couple times in order to let readers know when enough information has been included to allow them to solve the mystery. Of course, he interjects late enough that readers have more information than they need, muddying the water a bit, but that’s part of the fun.

The first part, with Heikichi’s will, was particularly strong. Heikichi casually describing why he needed to kill his daughters and nieces was incredibly creepy. I promise, though, that that’s as creepy as the book gets. Although the description of how the murders were actually accomplished was horrifying, the book’s overall tone didn’t have much of a feeling of creepiness, horror, or even urgency to it. Yes, Kiyoshi only had a week to solve the mystery, but the only things at stake, really, were his ego and reputation. Most of the people directly affected by the Tokyo Zodiac Murders were long dead.

There were a few times when I started to lose interest as the book became a little too “two guys talking about the facts of the case,” but for the most part those facts were really interesting. I had all kinds of theories about who might have killed Heikichi and how, how Kazue, Heikichi’s eldest stepdaughter, was involved, and who had killed the other women. None of my theories fit all of the facts of the case, and all my theories were torpedoed after Shimada included one particular document.

Kazumi, who was basically Kiyoshi’s Watson, had some ideas of his own that sounded promising, but I was fairly certain that he’d miss the key detail that would bring everything together. By the time Kiyoshi finally announced that he’d solved the murders, both Kazumi and I were thoroughly lost. It got to the point where I felt like Shimada was practically shoving the finished puzzle under my nose and I still couldn’t solve it. It was frustrating and fun at the same time. If it hadn’t been for work and sleep, I’d probably have read the last part of the book, where everything was finally revealed, all in one go. I can confidently say that I’d never have figured everything out on my own. There were aspects that stretched my suspension of disbelief, but, even so, the solution was really good.

All in all, this was a very enjoyable mystery that kept me guessing until the final revelation. It was very deliberately structured like a puzzle that readers were invited to solve along with Kiyoshi and Kazumi, but, despite the author’s two interjections, it still didn’t feel quite as detached as a couple similar mysteries I can think of. Kiyoshi and Kazumi had some life to them and didn’t just feel like pieces on the author’s gameboard. I particularly enjoyed their conversation about Sherlock Holmes and well-known mystery authors, and Kazumi's enjoyment of various locations in Japan made me wish I could visit them myself.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2017-10-10 19:19
Reading progress update: I've read 316 out of 316 pages.
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Pushkin Vertigo) - Shika MacKenzie,Soji Shimada,Ross MacKenzie

[ETA - I figured I'd add this: absolutely don't click my spoiler tag unless you don't plan to read this. I don't actually give away who did it, but there are spoilers in my wording.]


Finished! I can now say that, no matter how long I sat down and thought about the clues, I'd never have figured everything out. As it was, I managed to correctly guess 1.5 things, sort of:

that the Kazue the police officer met was not the real Kazue (that one was pretty obvious, even though I couldn't figure out the reason for it) and that the murderer was one of the murdered young women.


I didn't pick the right young woman or figure out any of the other key points of the murder, and I thought she'd actually been killed along with the other five women. My best theory was that Tomoko and Heitaro worked together to commit the murders, and then Heitaro betrayed Tomoko and killed her, leaving the body where he was because, I don't know, after burying five other people with Tomoko's help, he was too tired to bury her on his own or something. A theory which had lots of holes and didn't account for the problem of the almost certainly fake Kazue the police officer met. Unless his letter was a fabrication, but then why mention that the Kazue he met didn't quite look like the photo of Kazue in the newspaper? See, problems.

(spoiler show)


The actual explanation made sense, although it relied a lot on luck and the police either missing key details or being unable to get key information. And dang did the killer have to be ice cold.


I wish the second book in the series, The Locked Room of Pythagoras, were available in English.


Oh, and I'm going to be counting this for my Locked Room Mystery square. I haven't done a Bingo update in ages - I need to do that when I get home.

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text 2017-10-09 13:32
Reading progress update: I've read 246 out of 316 pages.
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Pushkin Vertigo) - Shika MacKenzie,Soji Shimada,Ross MacKenzie

"'What? You mean I'm wrong? Shit! I won't be able to sleep tonight!'


'That's good. For the sake of our friendship, have a sleepless night, just as I did. You'll feel much better tomorrow,' Kiyoshi said, closing his eyes contentedly.


'You're enjoying watching me suffer, aren't you?'


'No, I'm not. My eyes are closed.'"


Instead of finishing this book last night, I wrote a bunch of reviews (mostly for TV series, so not posted here on Booklikes). I'm now regretting this decision. I feel the same way as Kazumi. Kiyoshi knows who the killer is, how they did it, and Kazumi and Kiyoshi even met with the killer, and I still don't have a clue what happened. And that bastard Kiyoshi wants to get some sleep before explaining anything. Plus, I have to go to work. ::grumble::

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text 2017-10-08 18:24
Reading progress update: I've read 231 out of 316 pages.
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Pushkin Vertigo) - Shika MacKenzie,Soji Shimada,Ross MacKenzie

Back to this. The author helpfully interjects, letting readers know that he has now provided all the information necessary to solve the case. Very nice of him. Of course, I still have no clue.


The closest I'd come to solving anything involves

relying on the "police confession" stuff to be fake, although I have no idea why anyone would fake that information. Still, the stuff with Kazue is the kind of thing that only happens in porn movies. It can't possibly be real. Unless "Kazue" was actually someone else pretending to be her in order to force that police officer to help.

(spoiler show)


Yeah, no clue.

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text 2017-10-02 13:41
Reading progress update: I've read 203 out of 316 pages.
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Pushkin Vertigo) - Shika MacKenzie,Soji Shimada,Ross MacKenzie

I have no theories that the author hasn't mucked up. The only way my pet theory would still work is if a particular portion of this book were a complete lie.


Anyway, the back of my copy says:


"Intricate, compelling, violent, and exciting" - Crime Scene


"Complex... grisly... unsettling" - We Love This Book


Unless the tone shifts a lot in this last third of the book, I don't know that I 100% agree. It started off unsettling, with Heikichi's description of his very horrible plan, but since then it's just been a couple guys looking into some grisly 40-year-old murders basically for fun (also for a client, I suppose, but it feels like mostly for fun). Kiyoshi's enormous ego would be bruised if they couldn't manage to identify the killer, but nearly everyone who was directly affected by the murders is now dead - pretty low stakes.


Which isn't to say I'm not enjoying it, just that those blurbs paint a darker picture than I currently feel is warranted.

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