The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo, billed as a classic Japanese murder mystery, is a tale about a family fortune, a family feud and family secrets, revolving around the explosive, divisive and extremely complex will left by Sahei Inugami, patriarch of the Inugami Clan. When Detective Kindaichi gets a tip-off that the old man has died, and things are about to get hairy, he rushes to the picturesque lakeside village the family calls home. Before long, the murders begin, and they are grisly, dramatic and laden with symbolism.
This is a classic and very intricately plotted whodunnit, where the detective slowly works through all the options, using questions in the narrative to build tension with dramatic effect. A particular element of this is the regular but purposefully vague allusions in the early chapters to the ‘nightmarish incidents which were to come’. The women in this don’t come across particularly well; they are mostly either so beautiful (like shining star of the show Tamayo, who is described as possessing of an ethereal beauty) that they distract everyone and must surely be hiding wicked deceit and scheming behind all that beauty; or they are angry, bitter and vicious, like the three sisters. This having been said, most of the men don’t come across much better, with few of the characters being particularly likeable. Our detective Kindaichi, one of the more likeable characters, is the classic, slightly bohemian, excitable and perceptive sleuth, who enjoys slowly teasing the solutions out of those he is talking to, to reveal to us readers what he has already figured out.
Overall, the writing in this is dramatic, theatrical and very visual, with the characters often being described like feral animals, so angry that they were like enraged animals with blood dripping from their fangs. Darker themes of violence, gore, jealousy, complex family dynamics, planned assault and burdensome family secrets are contrasted with more tender moments between Tamayo and several of the characters, including her unusual faithful companion, or the ways a mother can seek to do the best for her child. Yokomizo also displays a capacity for dramatic writing of a different kind; the scenic lakeside setting is beautifully described, both on the clear blue days when the water is glittering in the sun, and at the misty dawns and dusks where scenes are deftly imbued with an eerie feeling that seeps from the pages.
While this is probably not exactly what I’m looking for in literature at the moment, I enjoyed this in the context of something written half a century ago, halfway around the world from where I am, and I’m always keen to become more widely familiar with Japanese literature. The book was first published in 1972 but is set in 1940s Japan. The Inugami Curse is just one of seventy-seven books by the extremely prolific Yokomizo featuring Detective Kosuke Kindaichi, and several of them have now been translated into English by Pushkin Vertigo. I enjoyed the engaging plot and way of writing, bringing the reader on a tense, twisting and turning ride full of suspense, and would be interested in reading more from this author.
The Inugami Curse was published by Pushkin Vertigo in 2020, translated from the Japanese by Yumiko Yamazaki.
Seishi Yokomizo (1902-81) was one of Japan’s most famous and best-loved mystery writers. He was born in Kobe and spent his childhood reading detective stories, before beginning to write stories of his own, the first of which was published in 1921. He went on to become an extremely prolific and popular author, best known for his Kosuke Kindaichi series, which ran to 77 books, many of which were adapted for stage and television in Japan. Gokumon Island is one of Seishi Yokomizo’s most highly regarded mysteries. The Honjin Murders, The Inugami Curse and The Village of Eight Graves are also available from Pushkin Vertigo.
Find out more about Yokomizo and his archive of books at the Pushkin Press website.