Murder In The Crooked House
Author: Soji Shimada
Translated by: Louise Heal Kawai
“Murder In The Crooked House” is the sequel to Shamada’s “The Tokyo Zodiac Murders”. The original book came out in 1982, and was revised in 2016. The English translation became available in 2019. It falls into the genre of the locked room mystery, and is very well executed.
The setting is in the remote northern tip of Japan, with the action taking place in the Ice Flow Mansion (The Crooked House). This is a literal name – the house is built on a snowbound cliff, and consists of a maze of sloping floors and two oddly placed staircases. It was built to the specifications of millionaire Kozaburo Hamamoto, and features a drawbridge to Hamamoto’s private bedroom, along with a collection of Tengu masks, clock-work dolls, and life-size dolls collected in Europe.
Hamamoto hosts a Christmas party, to which he invites a select group of people. A very strange group of people, who really don’t want to be there. Then there is Hamamoto’s daughter, Eiko, an educated but not so pleasant individual.
Strange things begin happening – a chauffer is found dead in a locked room, his body in a very strange position with both arms above his head – and one arm chained to his bed. A life-size doll is found dismembered in the snow outside of his room – with the head quite a distance away. The police are called, but they cannot solve the puzzle.
There are more deaths, and a young female guest wakes up hearing noises outside her window. When she goes to look. She sees a grotesque man’s face staring at her through her window. She screams hysterically, which draws Eiko (who is sleeping in the next room), Hamamoto and others to the room. The window is opened – and here is no sign that anyone was there. No footprints in the snow below, no nothing!
The police are very embarrassed that they are nowhere near solving the murder. The Chief Inspector contacts his superiors for help. To his consternation they send Kiyoshi Mitarai, a fortune teller and psychic that was famous for finding the culprit behind the Umezawa family massacre. However, to the policemen already on the scene, he comes off, at first, as a joke, someone not to be taken seriously.
This is a wonderful mystery, filled with improbable clues and characters with their own problems and perspectives. It is written in the style of a play, four acts, with multiple scenes in each act. As a help to the reader, there are sketches of the house and its rooms interspersed throughout the book. The tone is very Agatha Christie, focusing on honor, revenge, and murder. The sleuthing itself is very “Sherlock Holmes”. I found much of the book to be very “western” in orientation. I would have preferred to have more of the Japanese culture brought in, but that does not distract from the book. My only quibble really is that I wish the female characters had been presented in a better light.
I highly recommend this book, and it will certainly be on my list of books that I want to re-read from time to time.
© July 2019 Bonnie Cehovet
Reproduction prohibited without written permission of the author.