This isn’t the first time that I’ve accidentally read the wrong book. I intended to start out my reading of Seishi Yokomizo with The Honjin Murders, as I was fiending for a Japanese mystery with a puzzling impossible crime. I recalled hearing that the central puzzle of The Honjin Murders involved a crime scene with untouched snow, and you can’t blame me if I looked at the cover of The Inugami Curse, saw the body in the snow, and assumed I had the right book.
Well, I got a Japanese mystery, but I didn’t get an impossible crime. And I don’t know that I got quite the type of off the wall Japanese mystery that I’ve enjoyed with the likes of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, Murder in the Crooked House, or Death in the House of Rain. Yes, The Inugami Curse boasts an engrossing story featuring four separate murders, but don’t expect an over the top element like you get with some of its honkaku brethren. Which is fine – most of the books that I read aren’t over the top, and I just had my expectations in the wrong place.
My Pushkin Vertigo edition opens with an absolute monster of a character list – two dozen names and descriptions. Although daunting at first glance, I never had to go back and consult the list, as Seishi Yokomizo keeps his characters distinct and the core of the story really revolves around a subset.
The plot is based on a bonkers will left behind by a recently deceased silk magnate. Learning the exact details of said will is part of the fun, but suffice to say some family members aren’t happy, and things are set up for a chain of murders as factions of the family via for a piece of the legacy.
Seishi Yokomizo weaves an engrossing story about what comes next, which finds various Inugami descendants dispatched over a several month story arc. Unfortunately it all revolves around a core trick that is pretty easy to see through. Like, really easy to see through. It might not click immediately, but rest assured, it will click. There’s enough meat on the bone to where spotting the main deception doesn’t provide all of the answers to what’s going on, but quite a few of the mini-mysteries that we encounter upon the way are easy enough to explain with a bit of thought.
Which is funny, because Yokomizo has another pretty clever piece of misdirection going on, and so I found myself staring at the obvious solution without realizing there were deeper currents. When the end comes there isn’t ever a lightning bolt, but on reflection Yokomizo hid his machinations well. Yet, I do want a lightning bolt in my solutions, and while the denouement of The Inugami Curse was long and engrossing, I was more nodding my head that things made sense instead of reeling in revelation.
As such, I see The Inugami Curse as a four star read, but maybe a three star mystery. And yet I won’t hesitate to read more Yokomizo. The Honjin Murders, Death on Gokumon Island, and The Village of Eight Graves await me, and if I didn’t have so damn much other stuff I want to read I’d no doubt be getting to one of them in a month or two.
9 thoughts on “The Inugami Curse – Seishi Yokomizo (1972)”
I read this one early enough in my GAD experience that I actually didn’t (completely) see through the trick here, which definitely boosted my opinion of it. I’ll need to go back and reread it at some point, see how it holds up as a whole. I’m curious how you feel about Honjin Murders when you actually get to it: I found it a better puzzle but a somewhat less interesting story, but I can see others feeling otherwise.
At the end of the day, all that we can hope for is to be fooled by a piece of mystery fiction. And you were fooled by this one – consider yourself lucky. This is a famous novel, and no doubt it’s because many felt that same sensation along with you. I envy that. My own experiences – whether the books I’ve read before or my own line of thinking – poisoned that well for me, and I’m the one who lost out. I have my own intro to this genre which led to my own set of (obvious to others) moments of revelation, and I’ll keep those with me always. I’m psyched to hear this one got you, because there’s a great story to go along with the puzzle.
Yes, I look forward to The Honjin Murders, because I have no doubt that it will be an intriguing puzzle. And hey, if it’s only as good as The Inugami Curse, that’s a fine read by me.
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I…do not remember the core trick in this, which is interesting to me. So I look forward to rereading it and seeing if it’s as easy to see through as you say — certainly I don’t remember seeing through it, but I do overall agree with your appraisal of nodding along in quiet agreement rather than being bowled out of my chair come the denouement. Nothing wrong with that, we get bowled over maybe once every 20 books if we’re lucky, but it might be a factor in my not remembering what the workings of this one are,
Also worth being aware that Honjin is the only other one of the four thus far translated that matches this in terms of tight plotting and complex schemes. Death on Gokumon Island and The Village of Eight Graves are much less tight in their structure. Enjoyable, but very different styles of mystery.
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In your post you say “it leaves an elephant in the room in the shape of the one explanation no-one mentions which, as events progress, becomes increasingly apparent as the solution”, so it seems you probably glommed onto the same aspect as me.
Oh, cool; yay for Past Me.
If you want a lightening bolt in your solution, I recommend The Honjin Murders. Death on Gokumon Island is another great one and a personal favorite, but suspect you’ll find similar experience (nodding along instead of reeling). The Village of Eight Graves is not really a detective novel at all. More of suspense-like thriller hearkening back to the days of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Thanks for the tips about the other books – it seems to match the general impression that I’d gotten from other reviews, although it’s hard to keep things straight. Honjin is definitely next.
Funnily enough, I was having dinner last night with a friend who had bought all four of the translated Yokomizos and was looking forward to diving into one. It made me reflect on my own experiences so far. I haven’t read Eight Graves yet because it is (disappointingly) not a whodunnit. I’m pretty sure you’ll like Honjin more because of its wackadoo locked room trickery. It’s a shorter, tighter book as well. But I found myself drawn to the spooky tone and grotesquery of Inugami, and while, like Jim, I can barely remember what it was all about in the end, I was mildly surprised by the murderer, and totally get your point that it didn’t shock in the way we like.
The murderer is the standout aspect of The Inugami Curse; not so much the identity of the murder, but how they managed to get away with some things – the second family murder in particular. It’s really clever, and yet it feels a little undersold. Authors like Carr have pulled similar tricks and made them feel like lightning bolts during the reveal.