November is the perfect time for noir aka Noirvember, and that means it’s the perfect time for mystery novels. In Japan, the mystery genre is called suiri shōsetsu (推理小説) literally ‘deductive reasoning fiction,’ and has a long history in the Land of the Rising Sun. Here are just a few recommendations by Japanese authors to read during Noirvember.
1) The Tattoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi (1948)
Set in postwar Tokyo, The Tattoo Murder Case is a morbid mystery that shows off Japan’s unique tattoo culture. A young doctor, Kenzo Matsushita, becomes infatuated with a beautiful woman named Kinue Nomura, whose body is a canvas for beautifully elegant tattoos. A gruesome death comes for poor Kinue, and her severed body is found in pieces. Strangely, the flesh that bore her tattoos is missing, perplexing the Police. Kenzo is haunted by Kinue’s horrific death and frustrated by the Police’s inability to solve the case, so he reaches out to a former classmate, Kyosuke Kamizu, a “boy genius” of the Sherlock Holmes variety. Not only is Kyosuke smarter than Kenzo, he’s much more interesting and the story kicks into high gear when he’s introduced, making for an entertaining mystery.
Perhaps one of the most famous Japanese mystery novels, The Inugami Curse has been translated before back in 2003 as The Inugami Clan, but Pushkin Vertigo has recently published a new version. Also set in postwar Japan, the story deals with the titular Inugami family and the passing of its head. The Inugamis are an extremely wealthy family with hands in many industries, including chemicals. They’re also a nest of vipers, plotting to secure the vast inheritance for themselves. When family members begin turning up dead, Kosuke Kindaichi, an eccentric private detective, investigates and uncovers dark secrets lurking beneath the veneer of civility. The novel went on to be adapted into a famous movie in 1976 and a remake in 2006.
It should be noted that Kosuke Kindaichi is the star of a series of mystery novels, one of which, The Honjin Murders, has also been translated by Pushkin Vertigo.
In the early morning hours, a man is discovered dead on the railroad tracks, his face brutally disfigured, obliterating his identity. Inspector Imanishi of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police is put on the case but has few clues to work with. One of which is that the dead man spoke with an unusual accent. Methodic and dogged, Inspector Imanishi questions every lead and follows up all angles, but runs into a brick wall. This novel is not a fast-paced thriller, but rather a slow-moving, atmospheric read that goes through the motions of an actual murder investigation. It’s almost like stepping into the mind of an actual Japanese detective and seeing the world of 1961 Japan firsthand. Unfortunately, much of Seicho Matsumoto’s work has not been translated into English, except for the mystery novel A Quiet Place.
If you’re interested in more Japanese mystery novels, then check out my review of All She Was Worth by Miyuki Miyabe. Happy Noirvember!