Writing was just one of the professions that Masako Togawa pursued. In addition to writing mysteries, Togawa was a singer, nightclub owner, actress and musical educator.
Togawa’s crime fiction, at least those stories I have been able to read in translation, falls within the broad description of psychological thriller rather than detective story. Her stories are as much about characters’ explorations of their understanding as they are about physical clues or suspects and will appeal to fans of authors like Ruth Rendell.
Though she was quite a prolific author (Wikipedia states that she wrote over 30 novels – I cannot seem to find a reliable listing of these), only four of her novels were translated into English. Two of these were reissued in the past few years as part of the Pushkin Vertigo range which has brought them to the attention of a new audience.
Of those two books I consider The Master Key to be easily the stronger title. The novel is set in an apartment block inhabited by single women and is a tense exploration of what it is like to feel that your space has been invaded. It remains, for me, one of the highlights of that range and a book I find myself recommending frequently.
Works in English Translation
The Master Key (1962)
Original Title: 大いなる幻影
The author’s first work in which she explores the lives of characters living in an apartment block for single women.
The book won the Edogawa Rampo Prize by the Mystery Writers of Japan and was translated to English in 1984.
…I was really impressed both by the depth of characterization as well as the sense of unease she builds in this world. At times I was left curious how some elements could be fully resolved, making the ending all the more striking and powerful.
The Lady Killer (1963)
Original Title: 猟人日記
A thriller in which we follow a man who goes into nightclubs to seduce women, keeping a diary of his conquests only to find they are starting to end up dead.
This was the author’s second novel. It was translated into English in 1985.
I liked the novel a lot and found its characterization and discussion of themes of social isolation and of male and female sexuality to be thoughtful and considered but I do think it is a slightly less polished work than The Master Key.
Slow Fuse (1976)
Original Title: 深い失速
A psychosexual thriller in which a psychiatrist attempts to uncover why his patient has written a confession to killing a woman who is still alive.
This novel was translated into English in 1995.
…Slow Fuse feels superficial and often a little juvenile. Meanwhile the psychosexual thriller style feels aged and rooted in a form of sexual politics and gender relations that is very much of the period in which it was originally written.
A Kiss of Fire (1984)
Original Title: 火の接吻
A novel concerning three men who, as children, witnessed (and perhaps were involved in) a fire that killed an artist. Years later their paths cross again during a hunt for an arsonist.
This was released in translation in 1987 so while it was written after Slow Fuse, it was available in English several years earlier.
Though the premise of this story appears heavily reliant on coincidence, the ending is superb and satisfying.
One of Togawa’s short stories The Vampire is available in the collection Ellery Queen’s Japanese Golden Dozen which is reviewed here.