Armchair detectives, rejoice! The Honjin Murders has an ingenious puzzle to solve with fair clues and sneaky red herrings aplenty.
“A locked room murder, a red ochre-painted room and the sound of the koto…” The Honjin Murders is the first (of 77!) in a famous series of Japanese detective novels. It was published in 1948 making it a silver-age era mystery but with a deliciously different perspective.
An extended Japanese family is living at a large rural compound. The eldest son, Kenzo, is preparing to marry the middle-class Katsuko over his family’s strong objections.
After the wedding, Kenzo and his new bride retire to the annexe. Later, screams are heard in the night along with the playing of a koto. The family rushes to the annexe only to find it locked. After breaking in, they find the couple dead from stab wounds. The weapon, a katana, is found stuck in the snow outside.
Three bloody fingerprints are found matching a bum who had recently come to town. But how had he killed the couple in a locked room leaving no footprints in the deep snow outside?
I loved the Japanese setting. I learned quite a bit about Japan’s culture and history. The private detective, Kosuke has a smart and logical brain hidden behind his stammering and rumpled exterior. However, the cleverness of the murder method, the effectiveness of the red herrings, and the clear clues seen only after the stunning reveal are what made me love The Honjin Murders. 5 stars!
Thanks to Pushkin Press and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.