I love reading detective fiction since I was a child. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada is one of the best I’ve ever read in this genre.
The intriguing plot starts with a sinister letter by an artist who fantasises about creating the perfect woman (Azoth) by combining the different body parts of his six daughters and nieces. The eccentric painter is then found dead in a locked room. This is followed by a series of macabre murders where the women’s grisly corpses correspond to the dead man’s vision of Azoth.
Decades later, the mystery is solved by a pair of amateur detectives who had come into possession of new evidence. The sleuth work is brilliant, as is the elaborate and mind-boggling puzzle.
First published in Japan as Senseijutsu Satsujiniken in 1981, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders was Soji Shimada‘s debut novel. This book is a classic example of the Honkaku genre in Japanese crime fiction, where the focus is on the process of a criminal investigation and the reader is challenged to solve the mystery using logical reasoning.
In The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, the author unexpectedly challenges the reader in the second half of the book to solve the mystery using the clues that have been unveiled. While it eventually became clear to me who the murderer is, I had no idea how the crime was accomplished.
Shimada’s masterpiece held me in suspense until the final ‘a-ha’ moment. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is highly enjoyable and had me glued to its pages from start to end. The plot is brilliant with lots of attention to detail. Reading it reminded me of the Kindaichi Case Files 金田一少年の事件簿 manga series that I used to compulsively read when I was younger.
After the success of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, Shimada went on to write some 100 mystery books. Have you read any of his other works, and if so, what would you recommend?
Previously unavailable in English, the book was translated by Ross and Shika Mackenzie in 2004 and most recently published by Pushkin Press in 2015 as part of its new ‘Pushkin Vertigo’ imprint.