Review of The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo

A classic locked room mystery – set in Japan…

I’ve read and really liked a few other books from the Pushkin Vertigo line, which, per their website, features “crime writing from across the globe”. So I was happy to receive a review copy of one of their latest titles – an English translation of Seishi Yokomizo’s The Honjin Murders.

Before even starting this book, I had read that Yokomizo was one of Japan’s most famous mystery authors, so famous that he even has a mystery book prize named after him. So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this first title in Yokomizo’s lengthy Kosuke Kindaichi series. But what I got was a locked room mystery that didn’t even pretend to be anything else. In fact, the narrator spends a few paragraphs at the beginning of the book telling us exactly which classic locked room mysteries (e.g. The Mystery of the Yellow Room, The Canary Murder Case, The Plague Court Murders, etc.) this case resembles, and then cycles back at the end with even more explanation, including a reference to one of Agatha Christie’s books. (I won’t say which book, to avoid any potential spoiler…)

In between, the book read smoothly. The plot was crisp, and although I caught a few glimpses of the solution, I certainly didn’t figure it all out before the end. That’s actually the way I prefer it – to feel as if I am close to knowing whodunnit, rather than just totally puzzled, but not to actually know for sure! There were a couple of main plot lines – both how the crime was done, and why the crime was done – and they come together nicely at the end. The characters were believable, and fit well in their setting. And although first published in 1946, the story has withstood the test of time pretty well.

All-in-all, this was a quick, enjoyable read, even though what eventually turned out to be the motivation for the initial violence was tragic. Please note that for me, 4 stars out of 5 is a really good ranking. I try to fight “star-flation” a bit and reserve 5 stars for a very few absolute favorite books that I’m going to read and re-read. So 4 stars is my “go-to” ranking, and a solid recommendation. And once again, my thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher, Pushkin Vertigo, for the review copy.

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