Monday, October 1, 2012

T is for The Tattoo Murder Case (RIP #4)

The Tattoo Murder Case is a vintage mystery by a Japanese author, Akimitsu Takagi.  It was published in 1948 and translated into English in 1998 by Deborah Boehm. The story is set in Tokyo and it involves the tattoo culture in Japan. At the time, tattoos were illegal in Japan.
In the Soho edition that I read, these paragraphs precede the story:
In the shadowy depths of Mount Togakusbi in Nagano Prefecture, there lived three powerful, wicked sorcerers who were masters of the black arts of magic and enchantment. These mysterious magicians were known as Tsuneciabime, Jiraiya, and Orochimaru, and their legendary exploits have been the subjects of folk tales, Kabuki plays, woodblock prints, and some of the most spectacular Japanese art tattoos ever created.

This is the tragic story of three of those tattoos.
Another edifying element of the story was the portrayal of Japan after World War II. The book starts with these sentences:
It was the summer of 1947, and the citizens of Tokyo, already crushed with grief and shock over the loss of the war, were further debilitated by the languid heat. The city was ravaged. Seedy-looking shacks had sprung up on the messy sites of bombed-out buildings. Makeshift shops overflowed with colorful black-market merchandise, but most people were still living from hand to mouth.  
Since I am introducing these elements of the book first, you can probably tell that I enjoyed the book for the picture of Japan at the time, and opening my eyes to tattoo culture in that country. I found this to be a good and enjoyable mystery, at times, but I did have quibbles with some elements.

This book is my pick for the 2012 Crime Fiction Alphabet for the letter T. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise for other entries for this letter. 

This post is also my fourth submission for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII event. That event celebrates reading of books of mystery and suspense. This book has some very creepy elements, and it is an example of the locked room mystery.

Also counts towards a few other challenges: the Vintage Mystery Challenge and the Japanese Literature Challenge, and the New Authors Challenge.
The main protagonist in this novel is Kenzo Matsushita, a medical school graduate who was a medic in the military. Suffering from the effects of the war, he is now living rent-free with his elder brother and hoping to join the medical staff of the police. His brother is a Detective Chief Inspector in the Tokyo police department. Thus Kenzo gets involved in this very bizarre case involving the tattoo culture and gangsters.

This novel turns out to be of the Sherlock Holmes / Watson type, with a Genius Detective, in this case Kyosuke Kamizu. Kyosuke is an old friend of Kenzo's, also a doctor, and also recently back from military duty and a detention camp in Java. And our genius does not show up until page 209 of this 324 page novel. This was a (very) minor quibble I had with this book. Between the murder and the arrival of Kyosuke, much time was spent on the police and Kenzo spinning their wheels, waiting for some break. That may be realistic, but then a genius showing up to figure it all out is not realistic.

I also had problems with the translation. The Library of Congress describes the book as "translated and adapted by Deborah Boehm." There were additions to supplement the text (apparently). This paragraph seemed to contain such comments:
The three men shared a light meal of rice, miso soup with tofu and straw mushrooms, grilled butterfish, and various savory side dishes. (Daiyu's wife Mariko, as was customary, served them in silence, then ate by herself later in the kitchen.) Between bites, Daiyu and Kyosuke poked good-natured fun at ...
The book was an enjoyable read. Yet, such asides seemed out of place and took me out of the story.This review at Scene of the Crime also comments on these aspects of the translation, and covers aspects of the book that I have not discussed.

Even with the aspects that I personally found negative, I would highly recommend this book. Definitely worth the read. I will seek out the other two books by Takagi that have English translations:
Honeymoon to Nowhere 

My husband rated this book very highly at Goodreads. Here is his elegantly brief review:
A complex and exceedingly clever murder mystery set in post-WWII Tokyo. And in classic tradition, the solution (no, I'm not saying what it is) is all laid out for us in the last few chapters. Quite a pleasure to read.


Peggy Ann said...

Sounds very interesting. Have never even considered Japan as a locale or a mystery writer from there! I must live in a bubble!

TracyK said...

Because my husband likes mysteries set in Japan and China, I have access to a lot of them. But this is the first one I have read. Next year I am going to try more from both countries.

srivalli said...

I am trying out mysteries based in various countries and enjoying them. I haven't read a mystery based in Japan, this sounds promising. I will look for this book. Thanks for the recommendation.

carol said...

The setting sounds really fascinating and I don't think I'd have a problem with the "genius" showing up so late, but the translation issues have me a little concerned.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - Oh, this sounds absolutely fascinating! I really enjoy books that give a good perspective on a particular place and culture and this sounds like one of them. And I also have to admit I do like the old-fashioned detective kind of story. Thanks for sharing this one.

Lynn said...

I also enjoy books where I feel like I experience differences in culture and this seems to be the case here. I like the sound of it, although to be honest I don't read a lot of detective kind of stories at the moment. I'll keep a note of this one though.
Lynn :D

Tattoo Cases said...

This is really a thing to consider, thank you very much regarding writing about this subject. . !