Book Review: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

tokyo zodiac murdersThe Tokyo Zodiac Murders
by Soji Shimada
Japanese Crime Fiction
251 pages
Published 2005

Content Warning: Violence Against Women

One of my prompts for the Litsy Challenge is “Japanese Thriller” which took me some research to find one I could get my hands on. As it turns out, this isn’t really a thriller, just a mystery. It was the debut novel of this author, who has now churned out over a hundred mystery novels. It only came out thirteen years ago; he must write very fast!

In The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, two friends are trying to solve a 40-year-old serial murder case in which a man, his five daughters, and his two nieces were all killed. There was a curious note left by the murdered man detailing his plans to kill the women, take parts from each of them, and make the “perfect woman” called Azoth, who was supposed to become some kind of goddess and “save Japan.” His eldest daughter was raped and murdered in a crime that, besides timing, looked unrelated to the rest. The other six were not only killed, but chopped up and dumped with parts missing, all according to the murdered man’s plan. ….Except he was murdered first!

What starts the two friends on this path is one of Kiyoshi’s clients bringing him a letter her father had written before he died, confessing to having consensual sex with the eldest daughter the night she was murdered, then dumping the bodies as instructed by a blackmailer who knew about the encounter. He did not kill the girls; just took care of the disposal. This is brand-new evidence to the case.

This was definitely a mystery, not a thriller, but they’re largely lumped together in the lists of translated works of “Japanese Crime Fiction” so I’m counting it anyway. It was an interesting mystery; I liked that, unlike a lot of mysteries, all of the evidence is available to the reader. The characters tell the reader everything they uncover, but not the conclusions they draw. (Until the big reveal at the end, anyway.) Shimada actually put two author’s notes in the novel itself; one before the characters reveal anything, saying “You have all the information you need to solve the mystery now, can you do it before the characters reveal what happened?” and one after the murderer is revealed but before the How is answered, asking “Can you figure out how and why she did it?” before the complete reveal at the end of the book. It was a little surprising, but I really liked it.

I’ve never been big into mysteries, so I don’t see myself reading more of Shimada’s work, but for a book I wouldn’t normally have read, this was pretty interesting. That’s what reading challenges are all about, right? Stretching out your literary comfort zones.

From the cover of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders:

In this elaborate whodunit, private detective and astrologer Kiyoshi Mitarai faces his greatest challenge – in just one week he must solve a bizarre mystery that has baffled the Japanese nation for more than 40 years; who murdered the Tokyo artist Heikichi Umezawa, raped and killed his eldest daughter, and then chopped up the bodies of six of his daughters and nieces to create Azoth, the supreme woman? Do you have what it takes to solve the mystery before he does?

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