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The Tokyo Zodiac Murders: Detective Mitarai's Casebook Hardcover – 31 Oct 2005

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Amazon.com: 6 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Elementary, Detective Mitarai! 17 May 2007
By Zack Davisson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those amazing books that, as soon as you have finished it, you are pushing into the hands of your friends and forcing them to read it immediately. A short, complex and innovative novel, it has an almost perfect balance between character-driven plot and straight analytical mental games that challenge you to unravel the puzzle before the author gives it away. Fans of the murder mystery genre will have a hard time not enjoying "The Tokyo Zodiac Murders".

The story starts off with a powerful hook. In 1936, an old eccentric artist named Heikichi Umezawa has been found dead, leaving behind a last will and confession detailing his obsession with alchemy and astrology, and his plan to construct a perfect woman, named Azoth. His plans are incredibly detailed, but basically involve taking body parts from several astrologically perfect women, then assembling those pieces together in sequence. He is dead before he can put his plans into place, but someone else finishes the deed. The murders are never solved, and remain one of Japan's most studied cases, with amature detectives pouring over the details in the same way as they do with Jack the Ripper nowadays. Fast forward to 1979, where Kazumi Ishioka, a freelance illustrator and fan of mysteries, gleans some new insight into the case and decides to pursue it. He enlists his friend, astrologer Kiyoshi Mitarai, and the two begin their dark journey into the mind of the Zodiac murderer, going down roads that seem obvious once the links are made, but appear impossible beforehand.

Author Soji Shimada knows how to construct a good murder mystery. He takes the classic Holmes/Watson team, a fact which he quickly acknowledges in the text of the book, and uses them to hunt an intricate puzzle, based on his own in-depth knowledge as an astrologer. Many mystery staples are here. A locked-door murder. A prime suspect dead before the murders occurred. He takes the basic elements and cliches, gives the reader a nod to let them know that he knows what he is doing, then shuffles them all around until you are completely baffled and utterly enthralled. Especially impressive is his use of multiple writing styles, such as flipping between Heikichi Umezawa insane confession and Ishioka and Mitarai's lighthearted banter. He also makes judicious use of charts and illustrations, even occasionally breaking the fourth wall and personally challenging the reader to solve the mystery before he reveals all in the next chapter.

The only shame with "The Tokyo Zodiac Murders" is that it is the only one of Shimada's many "Detective Mitarai Mystery" novels to be translated into English. As soon as you flip the last page, you are going to be hungry for more of the same. Let's hope they they are forthcoming!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
..and now, for something entirely different ... 30 April 2009
By Nancy O - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the kind of book that I hope to find every time I pick up a new mystery. I do have to admit to a fondness for Japanese authors, especially mystery writers, and this particular book is an example of why. I have to find other works by this author in translation if they exist. I could NOT put this book down at all once I started.

The story begins some time back in the 1930s, and its focal point is a bizarre case known as the Tokyo Zodiac Murders. In the last will & testament of an artist under the influences of astrology and alchemy, he sets forth his plan to create the perfect woman...by killing off female relatives, including his daughters, to combine the best parts of all of them in his creation. The murders occurred, but this happened after the artist was found dead, in his studio, locked from the outside. The clues left little to go on, and solving the horrifying case became an obsession for many over the last decades. One detective, who is also a fortune teller, decides to take it on and solve it where others have failed. With the help of his friend, a fan of detective fiction, he tries to do what so many have attempted and failed over the a 40-year period of time.

An amazing book, one that will totally occupy you as you read. There are a number of possibilities that present themselves as the two friends delve into the past. The characterization is very well done, the writing is excellent, and the mystery itself (not to mention the solution) is nothing like I've ever read before. Hooray for a mystery I could really sink my teeth into.

I think this one will really appeal to people like myself who enjoy the different take on mysteries provided by Japanese mystery authors, and those who enjoy the classic locked-room/impossible crimes scenario. It isn't a mystery for cozy readers or readers who want an easy solution -- this requires the reader's participation the entire way. Also, if alchemy and astrology aren't your thing, then you may want to skip it.

An excellent mystery -- I enjoy finding these little gems now and then. Most highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Depressed young astrologer solves forty-year-old mystery 19 Jun. 2013
By Patto - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An eccentric old artist, his five daughters and two nieces are murdered in Tokyo in the 1930s in grisly fashion. The father's body is found in his locked studio, so his death is a locked room mystery. The girls' mutilated bodies are buried separately all over Japan. In a mad posthumous note the father describes a plan to murder all the girls and use parts of them to create a perfect woman, a goddess. But since he's murdered first, some other lunatic must have carried out his scheme. Or was his murder faked?

The girl's murders follow a bizarre logic based on alchemy and astrology. And it's a young astrologer who tackles the case confidently after the police and scores of amateur detectives have tried and failed for more than forty years. Kiyoshi learns about the case from his friend Kazumi, a great fan of mystery novels. These two young men bring new enthusiasm to the case and find new evidence. The interplay between the two is fun. Kiyoshi is has terrific mood swings. Kazumi is constantly badgering the secretive Kiyoshi to share ideas.

The book is full of diagrams illustrating scenes of crime and Kiyoshi's elaborate deductions. And occasionally the author smugly assures us we have all the clues we need to solve the case, but I couldn't figure out whodunit. The plot is devious, the writing style lively.

I found the beginning of the book a bit daunting, because of the creepy insanity of the crimes. So I encourage you not to be disheartened in the early pages. The Japanese names can be a bit confusing too. Even keeping Kazumi and Kiyoshi straight isn't always easy. But the book is worth a little effort. It's a modern classic of detection. No devotee of the mystery genre should miss it.
Great Murder Mystery 5 April 2014
By Grace Beale - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I really liked this book, and am giving 5 stars for the story alone, because the translation is not the best. (Perfectly readable but the prose is simplistic). But I suppose I'm just happy that this book got translated at all.
The mystery is really the key focus of the story, with the author encouraging the reader to try and solve the mystery themselves with the evidence provided. And, in my opinion, it was a darn good mystery! It had me on the edge of my seat until the very end
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Put off by the Enid Blyton language 28 Jun. 2013
By Dr Garry - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The other reviews here give you the backbone of the plot, and had the book been well-written I would rate it a three-star book.

The author apparently is a well-known and long-running Japanese writer of locked room mysteries. I would love to read more of his works, but I just hope he gets better translators next time. I've made similar comments about Paul Halter's works.

In this case, the prose is childish and distracting. How can I put it? Imagine a 15 year-old Justin Beiber fan writing a locked room mystery with that children's entertainer as detective. Gosh golly!

On the charming side, the book has some great Golden Age throwbacks, such as maps, diagrams, and even family trees. If only the translators had made the prose as timelessly bland as Agatha Christie or Ellery Queen, this book would be a great read. The ultimate solution to the puzzle is not only horrific, but as far as I know unique, and deserves better stylists.
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