It is the early hours of the morning and Yukie Hachisuka and her sign language teacher are talking when they hear the sound of someone walking and decide to open the curtains to look. When they do they observe Yukie’s father, businessman Kikuichirō Hachisuka, being shot through the heart with a crossbow.
When the two women instinctively leave their room to run down to him they are struck from behind, waking up several hours later. They discover that he is dead but there are signs that the body had been moved. Even more strangely, when the Police investigate they find that the room the murderer used belongs to Yūsaku Yano, the son of the family’s servants, who swears that he was fast asleep and that his door was locked from the inside.
The Police quickly settle on Yano as the only possible suspect they can see and they plan to arrest him but Kyōzō Hayami, an inspector of the Metropolitan Police Department, is persuaded by Yukie to try to find an alternative suspect. The Chief suggests that he might want to take a few days leave to investigate the matter and he and his colleague Kinoshita start to look into events.
The puzzle is a solid one though I was somewhat surprised that I worked out exactly how it was accomplished about two fifths of the way into the book. This is rather baffling to me as it is quite unlike me to have the first clue about solving an impossible crime, let alone getting it done so early in the text. When this sort of thing happens I usually caution that I may just have been lucky but I do think there are several significant details mentioned that may prove suggestive to seasoned readers of the genre.
While I may not have been amazed by the mechanics of how the crime was achieved, I am very happy to say that reaching that solution early did not diminish my enjoyment of the story for several reasons. For one, I could not be entirely certain of the identity of the killer. For another, there are some other aspects of the case that take a little longer to come into clear focus. But perhaps most importantly, I found Takemaru Abiko’s style to be highly entertaining and engaging.
Part of the way Abiko draws the reader in is by presenting us with a very likeable central character in the form of Kyōzō. He is not necessarily the sharpest investigator, nor the most brilliant mind but he possesses a simple charm. One of the things that really sticks out is when we first learn that he is attracted to Yukie and he reflects on how he feels lucky that he would have a successful relationship with her because she is the fiftieth woman he has fallen in love with but there are plenty of other fun details and thoughts within the text.
The other aspect of Abiko’s approach that I think sticks out is the restrained use of humor throughout the story. Combining comedy and crime can be a tricky business and there is always a risk that the jokes will overpower the narrative. Abiko avoids that by picking specific aspects of his story to provide humor while allowing the crime to be taken seriously.
One particularly rich source of humor is Kyōzō’s ability to compel Kinoshita to perform reckless or foolish acts. By the end of the book the reader will be anticipating the punch lines to these interactions but the pleasure comes in seeing just how Kinoshita will find himself injured again. Similarly I appreciated his frustrating interactions with his brother and sister who are both mystery fans and who each take on significant roles in the case, at one point giving their own version of Dr. Fell’s famous locked room lecture.
Though its puzzle may not be quite as ingeniously constructed as either The Moai Island Puzzle or The Decagon House Mystery, other shin honkaku titles published by Locked Room International, I think it is most accessible of the three and it might make a good first step for readers beginning to explore this style of Japanese crime writing. I am excited to see these works being made available in translation and hope that there may be further titles in the offing. Recommended.
16 thoughts on “The 8 Mansion Murders by Takemaru Abiko, translated by Ho-Ling Wong”
You’ve made me want to get a copy; I’ve enjoyed all the shin honkaku I’ve read so far, so I’ll look forward to this. Good review, thanks!
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Hurrah! I hope you enjoy and look forward to hearing your own thoughts on it.
Fast work getting a review out so soon after this was released — nicely done. I bought this about 15 seconds after you did and will read your thoughts in more depth once I’ve read it, but I see you solved this one early on, which I know can always be both a thrill and a disappointment where this sort of plot are involved.
And if you’re enjoying the Japanese style of mystery plotting, you should definitely check out Gosho Aoyama’s Case Closed manga. Some issues are better than others, naturally, but when it’s good it has some phenomenal impossible crimes in there.
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Thanks. It went straight to the top of the pile once I could get my hands on it.
With regards solving it early, I will be curious to hear if other readers have the same experience. I am not sure why the solution jumped out at me though I certainly don’t think it is as the result of any great cleverness on my part.
Thanks for the recommendation of the Case Closed series. I will have to see if it is one that I can borrow from the library.
I was not able to figure out the mechanics of either murder. In fact, I regard the mechanics as quite clever though I feel there is a slight flaw in the second one. Wouldn’t a certain person have noticed the arrow whizz past him/her ?
It is the whodunit aspect that disappointed me since this means a highly convoluted plan on the part of the culprit.
Interesting thoughts avout that second crime. I should say that one I didn’t beat the detective to though I agree that the mechanics were rather clever. It didn’t occur to me that the certain person was near enough to feel what you describe but I shall have to reread that passage of the book to see.
The whodunit certainly is convoluted and I do find an aspect of the motive to be unsatisfactory but it didn’t bother me because the opening part of the book from the killer’s perspective really announces that intention. I did appreciate that for once the killer over-thinks rather than under-thinks their plan, almost derailing it. I do agree though that it is the weakest aspect of the plotting.
I have sent you a message regarding the flaw.
Well, Aidan, you know I put this at 4th place after the joys in the House of Rain, Decagon House and Moai Island. I had the first method figured out due to familiarity with a certain classic locked room mystery that I won’t mention here but that every locked room fan will know (YOU know, right?). I did not figure out the second method; I just couldn’t visualize the house well enough. As to the WHO, however, well . . . I thought it made for a nice solution but I felt the who and especially the why were tacked on at the end.
Someday, I really want to get a cup of coffee with you and discuss our separate views on what constitutes “restrained” humor!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
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I have House of Rain queued up on my Kindle but I know you are a fan and look forward to experiencing it for myself soon. I think Decagon is a sublimely constructed story but I wish in a way that I had read it when I was a little more familiar with the genre. I think I would have got even more out of the references that are dotted throughout the text.
I do know what you refer to! I noticed two details in quick succession, then it struck me how they might tie in with that detail and presto!
I don’t know if I really visualized that floor plan well enough either but I did think it was quite fair and plausible on a technical level. I got nowhere near that solution as I forgot to mention in the review above.
I would enjoy grabbing a cup of joe with you should our paths ever cross. I will be the one wearing the hat with an arrow poking through, large googly eye glasses bouncing up and down on a whoopie cushion. 😉
Thanks for the review, which I returned back to read after finishing the book earlier this week. 🙂 When I first skim-read the review, I was slightly disappointed to hear that the solution to the first murder was guess-able. Now that I’ve read the novel, I can see why – it’s a time-honoured trick, and I also wondered, halfway through the novel, whether or not that particular device might have been used. 😑 But I wasn’t able to decipher out how exactly it functioned – and yes, even catching on to the trick wouldn’t have made the culprit(s) obvious. Thankfully, I enjoyed the solution to the second murder more, and felt that it made the novel a worthwhile read. 🤩
Humour is quite subjective, and I confess I found the comic moments actually quite annoying. It made me perceive the main character as a besotted detective and an irresponsible boss, and his two siblings as indulgent and long-winded. 😅
You are welcome and thanks for coming back and sharing your thoughts. I am glad that you enjoyed the second solution – it really is quite ingenious and I was pleased to get nowhere near figuring out how it was done.
As you say, humor is subjective. I can understand where you are coming from with those characters. Glad you enjoyed the solution in spite of it!