The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, Soji Shimada, 1981

Bought this book a few days back, when I visited a cute little book-cum-cafe in Gangtok. It’s called Rachna Book store, and you must visit if you ever come this side of the world.

Reading Shimada in the cold…

The book has the honour of being the first book that I bought in 2020…and also one that I have actually finished! (Sometimes it scares me, the book-buying that I do…and the mountains of unread/ half-read that are piling all around me).

The book by the way is a “locked room mystery“. Apparently these are mysteries in the traditions of the great detectives created by Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie and our own Sharadindu Bandopadhyay. The ones that we read on so many lazy summer and winter holidays of our childhood. In the case of Bandopadhyay’s detective, I was introduced to the Bengali babu-moshai on Doordarshan’s critically acclaimed and under-stated production.

In Shimada’s book, there is one short encounter between a traditional cop-investigator and our cerebral, fortune-telling and rather secretive detective Kiyoshi – “If legwork is all that’s required, then being a detective must be the best job for the son of a shoe salesman. But you forgot something very important- brainwork. If intelligence makes a good detective, what happened in your case, eh?“.

And so, if you must know, Kiyoshi Mitarai solves a forty-year old multiple-murder mystery with no forensics, no interviews, and just the facts of the case as reported by his friendly sidekick. Yes, all great detectives of this genre need that sidekick, the ones that take us down a red-herringed path and who need to be rescued by the cerebral detective in a quick parlour-room explanation.

All this happens, including a Sherlockian obsessive chase where our detective barely eats. Perhaps one reason why I still love this genre is because it calls out to an independent soul, one who lives intensely during the case, focused only on it. Everything else from food to other routines fall by the side. I realise I followed this pattern of content even when watching shows, most of my crime-solving protagonists are eating dinners in cars, sleeping in sofas, falling tiredly into the arms of hopeless loves and …solving cases!

In the Tokyo Zodiac Murders, we have 8 murders, all various branches of a family and most of them young women. The gore is there, but in the background, because remember…this is a locked room mystery!

Am also beginning to think this needs to be sub-categorised under a further classification “Japanese Crime Genre”- stories with intricate plotting, deep depths of patience to wait for the right moment and unapologetic killing (sample- The Devotion of Suspect X, Under The Midnight Sun etc).

The Indian mystery story would floundering in crimes of chaos, unless it was Byomkesh Bakshi (see above) of course 😉

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