Monday 16 March 2020

Seishi Yokomizo and The Honjin Murders

In recent times I've become increasingly interested in crime fiction from the Far East, countries like Japan, China, and Korea. (And that reminds me, I have some nice news to share. The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books has just been acquired by a Korean publisher - the first time a book of mine has been published in that country.) Pushkin Vertigo have done crime fans a service by publishing translations of two novels by Japan's Soji Shimada, whom I enjoyed spending time with in Shanghai last November. And now they've gone back in time by publishing two books by Seishi Yokomizo.

Yokomizo lived from 1902-81. He was born in Kobe and his first story was published as early as 1921. He introduced his series detective Kosuke Kindaichi in The Honjin Murders, which won the first Mystery Writers of Japan award in 1948 but the book has never been translated until now, by Louise Heal Kawai (who, I think, has done a good job.) Pushkin Vertigo have also published The Inugami Curse, which I hope to read shortly.

In the meantime, I must say that I enjoyed The Honjin Murders, which is firmly in the "impossible crime" tradition. There's a list of characters and a plan of the crime scene, coupled with extensive discussion about locked room mysteries. As early as page two, John Dickson Carr gets a mention, along with Leroux, Leblanc, Van Dine, and an author I haven't read, Roger Scarlett, author of Murder Among the Angells. Scarlett, by the way, was a pen-name for two American women, Dorothy Blair and Evelyn Page. Their five books were reprinted not long ago and I must take a look at one or two of them.

Yokomizo sets his story in 1937, a decade or so before it was written, and I was interested that it illustrates Dorothy L. Sayers' belief that 'respectability' and its preservation were key ingredients in Golden Age mysteries. In fact, I've just written a short Golden Age style story for My Weekly called "Respect and Respectability" which deals with the same theme. Anyway, Yokomizo got there a long way ahead of me. His book is short and entertaining, with an ingenious if unlikely plot. I'm delighted that it's finally been translated into English.

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