The Inugami Clan (Stone Bridge Fiction) (英語) ペーパーバック – 2007/9
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Discovering the Inugami clan's terrible secrets of forbidden passions, monstrous cruelty and disguised identities, private eye Kindaichi unravels the complex web of human relationships and emotions that lie behind the murders.
Famous detective Kosuke Kindaichi is called in by an assistant of the family lawyer. It seems that assistant made a terrible mistake and now realizes that murder will follow unless Kindaichi can prevent it–but the assistant is murdered in Kindaichi’s hotel room before the detective even meets him! This is only a prelude to the terrible things that will happen once the blood-colored will is read….
Kosuke Kindaichi was the most successful series character created by famous Japanese mystery writer Seishi Yokomizo, appearing in over seventy stories. (While the back of book blurb claims The Inugami Clan is the first book in the series, it’s actually at least the fifth. It is, however, the most popular volume and the only one to be translated into English.) He’s a fairly standard quirky detective–dressing in cheap, outdated clothing, stammering at emotional moments, and scratching his scalp furiously while thinking. Apparently, Kindaichi has independent means, as he’s able to lounge around in a hotel room far from his Tokyo home for a couple of months without a paying client.
The case itself is an old-fashioned puzzle box, and it takes several deaths before Kindaichi finally figures it out. All of the Inugami clan are suspicious characters, especially Kiyo, who wears a mask at all times, claiming to have been disfigured in the war. Even the lovely Tamayo, who would in other stories seem to be a innocent target, shows a cold cunning from time to time. But all the characters seem to have alibis for at least one of the murders, and the bizarre pun-based staging makes it probable the same person is behind all the events.
The setting of immediate post-World War Two Japan greatly shapes the story. The will that’s central to setting off the murders would be invalid under American law, and the slowly returning soldiers are an important plot point. (However, no mention at all is made of the American Occupation, or Americans in general.)
There are some gory corpses, an attempted rape, a torture scene told in flashback, and Sahei’s…unusual…sex life is important to several characters’ backstories. This and the older-fashioned writing style makes this book less than suitable to young readers; I would rate it for senior high-school and up.
The translation appears to be out of print in the U.S. Try inter-library loan for a mystery that will go well for fans of Ellery Queen and Agatha Christie-type stories.
Japanese writers, of whom Seishi Yokomizo is a notable example, unfold their tales differently. For example, it's not uncommon for the reader to be told what is going to happen even before events begin to unfold. The narrative descriptions of the crimes, while often grim tend to be clinical by our standards. Thus, in the Inugami Clan, which was a Japanese best seller, a strange will will left by a wealthy man reveals a peculiarly twisted set of relationships and triggers four deaths and several other attempts. The killings are carefully presented, but never overwhelm the story.
And the story isn't the murders, but the unfolding of a complicated set of relationships that seem to shift with every glance. The crimes, investigated by Kosuke Kindaichi (a Japanese Sherlock Holmes) become the bitter framework, upon which three sisters and the heirs to the fortune perform a stately, yet terrible dance. The ghost of the end of World War II and a chilling winter add to the sense of desolation.
Yokomizo excels at descriptive moments, whether he is focusing on people or the settling. He brings the landscape to life in a fashion which has been lost to the action oriented writing of the west. This is true to such the degree that a reader, unused to the differences and expecting something out of a Hong Kong fight film is likely to blame the translation rather than realize that the small, chess-like motions of the tale are the intent of the author. The translator, Yumiko Yamazaki does a very good job of capturing this flow.
Hopefully we will see more tales by Seishi Yokomizo reach translation in the near future. This is an opportunity to experience something uniquely Japanese in an unexpected context. To see what can be done outside the western mystery story.
Btw, to the reviewer who thought this showed how Japan had changed for the worse thanks to Westernization? I think you'll find that's not the point at all, if you consider the timelines and motivations. Many of the vices that caused the trouble were part of pre-Meiji culture, sadly. But it's not a pro-Western novel, either. Anything this noirish is bound to be full of inconveniently gray areas.