The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo: A Captivating Locked Room Murder Mystery

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Book review of Locked Room Murder Mystery, ‘The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo’

The Honjin Murders

Neelam Sharma
Author: Seishi Yokomizo


Twang-twang, ping-ping goes the “koto”

Imagine the eerie sound of such an instrument breaking into your thoughts, robbing you of your peace…

Wait, there’s more. What if I tell you that all of this is happening right after you are done with the festivities? Right, festivities revolve around the rituals of a marriage. Scared, aren’t we? And boom! Hey, the bride and groom are found dead. It’s sad. Wait, sad as well as strange? Why? The room was locked from the inside! So, who did it then?

Hmm, that was the skeletal hairline plot of “The Honjin Murders” by Seishi Yokomizo for you all. One of those fantabulous “Kosuke Kindaichi” mysteries, this one too, gave me all those “Moorland” kinda chills, TBH. One of the brilliant detective’s brilliant debuts, this book has enough intensity to keep anyone gripped intensely right until the end. Seasoned with what I like to fondly refer to as the right amount of “Japanese literature” spice,

Cut to the plot well, Okayama Prefecture, November 1937. Revolving around the Ichiyanagi family, which used to have an uptown inn aka “honjin” for noble travellers in those feudal times, the honjin, aka the mansion, has now become their home. While the Ichiyanagi family is trying to combine modern thought processes and attitudes with the heritage of the past, when their heir Kenzo, a middle-aged scholar, finally decides to marry and get settled, they are still perplexed by his choice of bride, Katsuko, an intelligent school teacher from a modest background. However, they proceed too late to go back on his choice, and the wedding day finally arrives. As the couple, along with the entire Ichiyanagi family and Katsuko’s uncle Ginzo, stay up most of the night, they spend time mingling with the tenants of the honjin, drinking, and making merry. Following this, just after they go to bed, a few hours later everyone is awoken unexpectedly by an eerie, horrific scream. As the family gets up to inspect, when they reach the place where the newlyweds were to spend the night, they are horrified to find them slaughtered. With no footprints in and around the place and no possible way in and out, only one question lingers in the minds of all how can a murderer possibly have escaped from a locked room without leaving a single trace?

As the local officials are summoned to help, it is evident that there is more to the case than meets the eye. There are also glaringly curious pin-pointers, which make it truly uncanny, putting even the best possible experts in a quandary. For instance, the absence of any footprints around the place, the murders being accompanied by the sound of the koto, and the gruesome way in which the new couple have been slaughtered. All are stupefied by the same question: who could have killed Kenzo and Katsuko?

And what of the mysterious 3-fingered man who is roaming about in the village, asking for the family’s details?

Also by Seishi Yokomizo:

As Ginzo sends out the word to Kosuke Kindaichi, a detective who has already made a name for himself through some brilliant deductions, Kosuke slowly but steadily starts unravelling a truly wondrous set and sequence of events that have led to this strange culmination no one could have imagined.

What truly kept me hooked on this one was Yokomizo and his fond ruggedness, which has this uncanny quality of being able to dish out the true Japanese flavours of intrigue and suspense with such alacrity. There is tension and a build-up, and along the way, I was adept at witnessing all the characters’ POV in a manner so subtly coy yet so revealing that I swear I was almost able to drink in every one of their fine attributions as the plot proceeded. You know there were so many tell-tale references to crime tales we may have read and indulged in before that I almost felt as if Yokomizo was winking at us from some of them, raring us to reminisce about them. Yes, there was a spark in the prose, deftly woven in between the pages, making one go back to diving deeper into the tale, only to realize that yes, indeed, it was a plot worthy of such a brilliant investigative.

Coming to the characters, every one of them—Kenzo, his siblings Saburo and Suzuko, Katsuko, Ginzo—her bereaving uncle, Ryosuke, and Akiko—every one of them came with a dimension of their own, adding a layer, a perspective to the tale, making it denser yet indulgent, all at once. Kosuke Kindaichi, being the smart detective he has been known to be famous for, this book is one of the first few debuts of Kindaichi, gaining him the stellar reputation of a detective who truly knows his craft and has mastered it. One can safely say that Yokomizo has surely created Kindaichi as more of a cross-figure, attributing his characteristics by way of a fusion between traditional as well as modern Japanese cultures. Such a master stroke to blend in the entire culture system to be able to dish the final penned narrative out in a more universal approach and linearity must have surely been tricky, which Yokomizo has successfully delivered. A detective fiction perfect for fans of those who are fond of British crime classic tales and yet want to also delve into Japanese literature, Yokomizo’s writing is one that surely has gotten me addicted to it.  

What for me worked brilliantly was the fact that Yokomizo has planted subtle hints throughout the tale—kind of tiny tell-tale flags that egg you on, keeping you on wits-end, daring you to suspect one character after another in this mad tale of gruesome murder. Also, the fact that Yokomizo twinkled some great works of crime fiction, referring to them time and again, makes you kind of excited by the prospect of delving into this one even further. Crime fiction with deserving odes to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and more.

This is my fourth read by the author, and I must say I am smitten by his writing style. The kind of mystery he fashions, just about the right amount of intrigue, the red herrings, the slow build-up, the adrenaline that pumps up at the opportune times—everything just falls seamlessly into place, fusing to bring a narrative so indulging that it would be difficult to put this one down once you commence it. A must-read, not only for fans of crime fiction but for all those who desire a brilliant read.

So, I hope you guys liked my thoughts on this one. Stay tuned with us right here at Booxoul for the best in the fields of entertainment, food, finance, fashion, travel, fun, education, tech, gadgets, and all things bookish.

Adios Amigos!

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