Lending the Key to the Locked Room by Tokuya Higashigawa, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

Originally published as Misshitsu No Kagi Kashimasu in 2002
Ikagawa City Series #1

Ryuhei, a would-be film director, has just been dumped by his girl friend and his drunken threats to kill her have made him the prime suspect, as she has just been murdered. 

His alibi is that he was watching a film in his friend’s home movie theatre at the time. Unfortunately, his friend has also been stabbed to death in his bathroom, with the door to the apartment locked with a door chain. 

Worse still, Ryuhei was the only other person in the apartment at the time, and passed out until the following morning after he discovered his friend’s body. Fearing that the police will not believe him, because the door chain can only be locked from the inside, he panics and runs away. Not a good idea. 

Lending the Key to the Locked Room is an example of the shin honkaku ha (New Orthodox school) of Japanese mystery fiction. Works in this style, which began in the 1980s, hark back to the idea and rules of the fair play puzzle mystery practised by the likes of S. S. van Dine and Ellery Queen. Such works can be regarded as a game or contest of wits where the author promises to give the reader all the clues they need to be able to solve the mystery before the detective if they have the imagination to do so.

This was Tokuya Higashigawa’s first novel and it presents us with a complicated situation in which a man finds himself linked to two murders in bizarre circumstances.

Ryūhei joined the film program at Ikagawa University but as he nears graduation he decides that wants a guaranteed job and so he reaches out to a friend, Kōsaku Moro, who workss at a small film company. The work won’t be lucrative or glamorous but he is glad of the security. His girlfriend is appalled as she does not see her future in Ikegawa and dumps him. A few days later he gets heavily drunk and starts a bar fight screaming his girlfriend’s name and saying he will kill her. This will not look good for Ryūhei…

Ryūhei is invited over to Kōsaku’s home to watch a movie together on his home theater system. After the movie finishes Kōsaku offers to get snacks and drinks, leaving him alone in the house while he runs to the store. When he returns he tells him that he saw a commotion and that he had heard that someone had died from falling from a building which turns out to be the one where Ryūhei’s ex-girlfriend lives. We will later learn that she was murdered.

His friend leaves him alone to take a shower. When he doesn’t emerge after a long period, Ryūhei investigates to find his friend dead of a knife wound. He finds that the door to the apartment had been chained and that no one could have gained access or left through any of the windows. It makes for an intriguing scenario, built around a very solid locked room problem. Not only was he present at one murder in a location that no one else could gain access to, there are clear links between the two crimes such as the weapon used. Given that we have followed Ryūhei throughout the events of that evening we can be confident that he is not responsible for either murder yet it clearly looks bad for him.

I felt pretty confident that I had the answers quite early in the investigation but I quickly realized that the solution could not be quite as simple as I was thinking. Even when an idea appeared that it might fit the facts, some point would be brought up that would make me realize that my ideas would not work. While I would work out a few of the key points by the end of the novel, I have to say I didn’t get close to the details of the actual solution.

The best part of that solution relates to the sequence of events that evening. Towards the end of the novel we are given a detailed, step-by-step explanation which does a superb job of laying out exactly why things happened the way they did. The mechanics of the killer’s plan struck me as quite clever and one aspect of it in particular stood out as quite imaginative and original. I enjoyed it as much for the manner it is revealed by piecing ideas together as the audacity of the concept itself.

I did have an issue with the solution which relates to motive. Being as vague as I can be, I feel that the killer’s motive is rather weak. While I accept that some signs of it are clearer once you know what it is, I am not sure that I think it would push someone to act in the way they do and so I did find that reasoning to be a little unconvincing. I will say though that it has grown on me as I have reflected and thought of the indications in the story that I have missed. There are a few points in that solution that struck me as strange when I first read them but as I thought back through the story I could see the clues that could have led me there.

Though I am a little reluctant to label this as a comic detective story, in part because the humor is not frequent enough to feel like the purpose or focus of the story, Higashigawa does approach telling his story in a rather light-hearted fashion. His narration is peppered with little comments that acknowledge that we are reading a detective story, reflecting on the expected structures and plot developments of such works. They prompted more smiles than laughter for me but I still appreciated their inclusion and felt it fit well with the general craziness of the story’s premise.

Overall, I found Lending the Key to the Locked Room to be an entertaining read. The puzzle has some really clever features and I enjoyed the occasional meta asides in the narration which I found amusing and which gave the piece a rather unique style. I would certainly be willing to read more from this series should others become available.

The Verdict: An excellent example of a lightly comic puzzle mystery with some clever plotting.

Further Reading

This release does not have either an introduction or endnotes but the translator, Ho-Ling Wong, recently blogged about the release and had previously offered their thoughts on the book. Both are worth reading.

7 thoughts on “Lending the Key to the Locked Room by Tokuya Higashigawa, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

  1. I have much to discuss with you, Aidan, and of course I can’t without spoilers. This is a job for . . . . . . . ROT-13!!!!!!!

    Vg’f n znggre bs punapr gung V unccrarq gb ernq Gur Erq Evtug Unaq evtug nsgre guvf bar, naq vg znqr zr ernyvmr gung gurer’f n cybg qrivpr va zlfgrevrf gung V qb abg yvxr. V jvyy pnyy vg “Gur Znavchyngbe” naq vg onfvpnyyl pbafvfgf bs n zheqrere znavchyngvat uvf cngfl gb npg n pregnva jnl va beqre gb cebivqr uvzfrys jvgu n nyvov be, va fbzr jnl, shegure uvf vafvqvbhf cyna. Bs pbhefr, ZBFG zheqreref qb guvf va bar jnl be nabgure, ohg guvf vf n pnfr bs vg orvat GBB boivbhf, pnhfvat zr gb vzzrqvngryl cbhapr ba gur vqragvgl bs gur xvyyre.

    Qvqa’g lbh svaq vg jrveq gung Zbeb vaivgrq Elhurv gb gnxr n ongu, gura znqr uvz fgnl ng uvf ubhfr nybar juvyr ur jrag gb trg fanpxf, GURA fnvq “jnvg urer, V’z tbvat gb gnxr n fubjre juvyr lbh’er urer engure guna jnvg sbe lbh gb yrnir.” Vg vzzrqvngryl znqr zr fhfcvpvbhf bs Zbeb, naq V pbhyqa’g funxr gung fhfcvpvba guebhtu gur obbx, sbezhyngvat n gurbel gung, sbe fbzr ernfba, Zbeb fgnoorq uvzfrys bire jung ur fnj juvyr va gur pebjq. (Gurer’f ab jnl ba RNEGU n ernqre pbhyq svther bhg ubj Zbeb tbg fgnoorq hagvy gur nhgube erirnyf vg va gur raq; gurer ner fvzcyl ab pyhrf.)

    Gura V ernq Gur Erq Evtug Unaq, naq urer’f Vfar Fg. Rezr znavchyngvat gur tvey gb rybcr jvgu uvz naq evqr nyy bire Arj Ratynaq va frnepu bs n irahr, nyy juvyr univat orra “qvssvqrag” nobhg uvf srryvatf sebz gur fgneg. V vzzrqvngryl cbhaprq ba gur vqrn gung ur unq xvyyrq gur genzc, abg gur bgure jnl nebhaq, naq fjvgpurq pybgurf juvyr qevivat nzbx. Jura V zrg gur cflpubybtvfg, V fjvgpurq gb uvz orpnhfr rirel ernpgvba ur unq frrzrq gb or gung bs n zheqrere. V gubhtug gur ynggre obbx zber pyrire orpnhfr gurer JRER pyhrf gung gurfr gjb jrer bar naq gur fnzr zna. Ohg vg jnf fgvyy n ceboyrz sbe zr gung ur jnf fb oyngnag nobhg jung ur arrqrq gur tvey gb qb gb znxr uvf cyna jbex.

    Jura guvf fbeg bs guvat unccraf, nf vg qvq va n irel snzbhf Wbua Qvpxfba Pnee abiry gung rirelbar ybirf rkprcg zr, zl fbhevat vf qhr gb gur rnfr jvgu juvpu V haeniry gur gehgu qhr gb gur npgvbaf bs . . . Gur Znavchyngbe! (Phr pbby fcl zhfvp!!!)


    1. It is indeed a job for ROT-13!

      Gunaxf Oenq sbe funevat gurfr gubhtugf. Vg jbhyqa’g bpphe gb zr gb pbaarpg gur gjb abiryf ohg lbh ner evtug gung gurer ner fbzr fvzvyne vqrnf naq pbaprcgf funerq orgjrra gur gjb abiryf.
      V qvqa’g frr gur uvagf va gur jnl gung gur fubjre vf chfurq ohg bayl orpnhfr V obhtug gur cbvag gur aneengbe znxrf gung guvf jnf n erthyne bppheerapr jura gur cnve uhat bhg (naq V xabj jura V jnf va pbyyrtr V unq sevraqf jub yvirq va qbezf jurer gurl jbhyq funer onguebbzf jub jbhyq nfx gb hfr zvar jura gurl pnzr ivfvg). N yvggyr negvsvpvny, fher, ohg vs lbh npprcg vg nf ebhgvar gura lbh pna bireybbx gur fvtavsvpnapr bs gung zbzrag nf V qvq.
      V guvax gung rkcynangvba znxrf rira zber frafr jura vg vf erirnyrq gung Zbeb unf orra svyzvat uvf sevraq fubjrevat. Guvf orpnzr n ebhgvar gurl tbg vagb n juvyr rneyvre naq juvpu Zbeb pyrneyl chfurq.
      Ubj ryfr vf vg pyhrq gung Zbeb yhfgf nsgre Elhurv? Jryy, V guvax gur jnl ur jbexf gb znxr fher gung ur vf yvarq hc jvgu gur wbo nsgre ur nfxf pna or gnxra nf n fvta bs gung gbb naq jr xabj gung Zbeb unq cerivbhfyl cnvq n ybg bs nggragvba gb uvz jura gurl jbexrq gbtrgure ba gurve svyz frg.
      V guvax gur vqrn gung n svyz pbhyq or rqvgrq gb cebqhpr na nyvov vf na vaperqvoyl pyrire vqrn gung pyrneyl pbhyq jbex naq V fvzvyneyl ybirq gur jnl vg vf qrgrpgrq (gung Elhurv vf gur bayl bar jub guvaxf gur zbivr vf nal tbbq). Bapr ntnva V zvffrq gung nf n pyhr ohg V guvax vg znxrf n ybg bs frafr.
      Va fcvgr bs zvffvat gubfr pyhrf V qvq guvax gung Zbeb unq gb or gur xvyyre gubhtu V cerfhzrq vg zhfg or na nppvqrag be gung ur erghearq gb gur ncnegzrag abg ernyvmvat ur unq orra fgnoorq. Gung frrzrq engure sne-srgpurq gb zr ohg ab bgure rkcynangvba bppheerq gb zr. V guvax gur rkcynangvba gung ur unq orra fgnoorq ohg sryg gur arrq gb znxr fher ur erghearq gb rafher Elhurv’f nyvov vf pyrire naq znxrf frafr bs gur jnl ur vf qrfpevorq ergheavat.
      V yvxrq gung gur vzcbffvovyvgl vf bar bs gubfr gung unf orra perngrq ol onq yhpx sebz na nggrzcg gb perngr na haoernxnoyr nyvov. Gb zr gung urycf npprcg gur negvsvpvnyvgl bs gur vzcbffvoyr pevzr frghc.
      Vf gur qrirybczrag bs gur ubzryrff zna pyhrq? Jryy, V guvax vg vf ohg va na rkgerzryl inthr jnl. Jura V svefg ernq vg V gubhtug gung vg pnzr sebz abjurer ohg gur znggre bs gur rkgen tebprevrf pynevsvrf vg. Jr xabj gung Zbeb unf gb unir nyernql orra tebprel fubccvat fb vs ur ergheaf jvgu gung ont gura jurer vf vg? Gur znggre bs gur habcrarq cvfgnpuvbf vf shegure rivqrapr gung gur ont ur obhtug jnf gnxra nf vg znxrf frafr gung Zbeb jbhyqa’g unir qhzcrq vg ba gur jnl onpx.
      Jr xabj gura gung fbzr genafsre zhfg unir bppheerq gung avtug. Qbrf gung rdhngr gb n fgnoovat? Ab, naq V guvax gung vf gur ovttrfg jrnxarff – vs gur Ubzryrff Zna qbrfa’g whfg ershgr gur fhttrfgvba gura V guvax gurer vf ab fbyvq rivqrapr bs gung fb jr trg n yhpxl oernx gung ur vf fb ubarfg. V guvax ubjrire vg qbrf znxr frafr bs gur vqrn gung univat tnvarq gur ont shyy bs tebprevrf gung ur jbhyqa’g ubyq bagb vg – ur jbhyq qvfcrefr vg bhg bs srne vg zvtug gvr uvz gb gur fgnoovat.
      Zl ovttrfg vffhr whfg pbzrf onpx gb zbgvir. Qb V ohl gung Zbeb jbhyq xvyy sbe Elhurv? V pbhyq pregnvayl qb gung vs gurer jnf n fgebatre fhttrfgvba gung Elhurv ernyyl ungrq uvf rk ohg vg ernyyl uvatrf ba gung qehaxra enag gung Zbeb ercbegf. Jr xabj sebz gur aneengvba, juvpu vf eryvnoyr, gung ur qvqa’g ernyyl erfrag gur raq bs gur eryngvbafuvc fb vg frrzf gung vg jbhyqa’g unir orra jung Elhurv ernyyl jnagrq. V nz abg fher vs Zbeb jbhyq unir gubhtug fb ernyyl, qrrc qbja rvgure.
      V zvtug creuncf npprcg vg zber rnfvyl vs ur qvq vg bhg bs srne gung uvf sevraq jbhyq jnvire nobhg npprcgvat gur wbo naq jbexvat gbtrgure – gb xvyy gb znxr fher gung Elhurv qbrfa’g yrnir gur pvgl – ohg gung qbrfa’g ernyyl srry yvxr n zbgvir gur obbx qverpgyl fhttrfgf.
      Fb gur zbgvingvbaf sbe gubfr gjb qrnguf ner jrnx naq V npxabjyrqtr gung nf gur ovttrfg ceboyrz V unir jvgu gur obbx. V pbhyq frr rivqrapr sbe zbfg bs gur bgure nfcrpgf bs gur fbyhgvba nf V gubhtug onpx ba gur obbx ohg V pnaabg vzntvar jul Zbeb jbhyq gnxr gur evfx ur qbrf urer, rira vs vg vf sbe ybir be yhfg. Gur cbgragvny erjneq whfg vfa’g fgebat rabhtu (naq Elhurv jbhyq fheryl ungr uvz sbe qbvat vg vs ur yrnearq nobhg vg yngre).

      These were written super quickly and with my kiddo was climbing all over me so hopefully they are coherent, whether or not you agree with my views! 🙂


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