cover image The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

Soji Shimada, trans. from the Japanese by Ross and Shika Mackenzie. Pushkin Vertigo, $13.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-78227-138-3

First published in Japan in 1981, Shimada's intriguing first novel blends metafiction with a locked-room mystery. The title refers to a (fictional) series of sensational unsolved murders committed in 1936. In 1979, freelance illustrator Kazumi Ishioka, "a huge fan of mysteries," and his moody artist friend, Kiyoshi Mitarai, a self-styled amateur detective, are intent on unraveling the decades-old ritualistic killings. Painter Heikichi Umezawa left an eerily specific note about how he wanted to create the perfect woman, his Azoth, made up of the severed parts of his six daughters and nieces. These women, all with different astrological signs, ended up dead and buried all over Japan, but it was impossible for Umezawa to be the killer, because he had been dead for days himself, murdered in his locked studio. Kazumi and Kiyoshi spend a lot of time getting up to speed on the case by simply relating facts to each other. But once Shimada enters his own narrative as an investigator, the pace picks up considerably, and readers will understand why Shimada is considered one of Japan's most fiendishly clever crime writers. (Sept.)