The Honjin Murders


  • Media: #Books #Books 2020
    • Author: Seishi Yokomizo
    • Status: read
    • Date: 2020-11-07
    • Tags: #mystery #whodunnit #japan #detective
    • Rating: ★★★☆☆
    • Idea richness: ★★☆☆☆
    • Links: Highlights, Goodreads


"A locked room murder, a red-ochre-painted room and the sound of the koto…"

A classic Japanese [[!Locked room mystery]], the first in the Detective Kosuke Kindaichi series, featuring the tragic double death of a couple on their wedding night. A locked room, bloody three-fingered handprints, haunting music played during the crime, and suspicious family members with their own motives, all narrated by a mystery writer who seems to be enjoying the fiendish twists makes for an enticing recipe.

It's the grand reveal that leaves you scratching your head like Detective Kindaichi. Not in excitement or confusion, but more 'why...?'

SPOILER Turns out the double homicide was actually a murder-suicide. The wealthy head of the family was so obsessive he couldn't stand that his bride wasn't 'pure' so decided to murder her and set up an elaborate Rude Goldberg contraption to stab himself and launch the murder weapon away from himself. The suspicious three-fingered man? Just a lucky happenstance who happened to pass by and happened to drop dead so they could use his hands for fingerprints. The suspicious family members? Ehhhh, mostly just there. /SPOILER

Review (feat. Spoilers)

The Honjin Murders has a lot to love. It's a love letter to the [[!Locked room mystery]] and detective fiction, joyfully namedropping novels and reveling in misdirection and crafting a seemingly unsolvable crime. If only it hadn't tried so hard to be ingenious and outdo the detective fiction it cites to the point of the grand reveal feeling more like a parody than a satisfying conclusion.

Things I loved...

  • The setup and abundance of possible suspects.
  • The mysterious musical connections and bloody details (using koto picks to obscure fingerprints).
  • The embrace of the genre's trope and love letter to detective fiction.
  • The idea of a detective writer narrating (but not starring) in a murder mystery and reveling in the fiendish genius.

Things I didn't...

  • Everything about the reveal.
  • Kosuke Kindaichi. I liked the idea of the character (a young, shaggy-looking detective with a stammer who everyone underestimates) but in execution he fell flat.
  • The occasionally detail-obsessed writing and tell-y style (see: [[!Show dont tell]]).

Topics to Pursue

  • Published by Pushkin Vertigo, who look to have a great collection of classic mysteries from around the world.
  • Mystery writers: Ruiko Kuroiwa, Edogawa Ranpo, Fuboku Kozakai, Saburo Koga, Udaru Oshita, Takataro Kigi, Juza Unno, Mushitaro Oguri, Gaston Leroux, Maurice Leblanc, S.S. Van Dine, Dickson Carr, Roger Scarlett.

Scrapbook Concepts

  • The Three-Fingered Man #characters
  • "As a writer of detective novels myself, I intended one day to try my hand at one of these, and now I’ve been unexpectedly blessed—one has fallen right into my lap. I know it’s shocking but I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to the killer for devising such a fiendish method to stab this man and woman." --> A writer who is a fan of the killer #characters
  • The Cat’s Grave #locations