"The Honjin Murders" is a classic murder mystery in which a newly married couple are found butchered by a Japanese sword inside a room locked from the inside. With the family at a loss and the locals spreading rumors of a mysterious three-fingered stranger, the uncle of the bride calls in Japan's own Sherlock Holmes, Kosuke Kindaichi. The detective's unkempt appearance and often profound stammer belies a deductive mind that allows him to solve cases that stump the pros.

The Honjin Murders, Seishi Yokomizo Translated by Louise Heal Kawai.
192 pages


Comparisons with Holmes are justified, both in the character of Kindaichi and Yokomizo's approach to storytelling — mixing clues, red herrings and fascinating social insight before drawing back the curtain to reveal the truth. They are also unsurprising, given how much Yokomizo wears his influences on his sleeve: One character even boasts a library stocked with "every book of mystery or detective fiction ever published in Japan."

Beyond the drama and the puzzle, the short novel is an intriguing insight into customs and social expectations in rural Japan at this time. The "honjin" of the title refers to a high-class inn for government officials on the road during the Edo Period (1603-1868); the tragic family are the descendants of the land-owning innkeepers. By embedding his mystery in this post-feudal milieu, Yokomizo brought early 20th-century civic relationships to life in a vivid and entertaining way.

This is one for fans of detective novels and of Japanese literature alike. With a second Kindaichi case to be published next month, the remaining 75 of his novels can't be far behind.