Nate Reads: The Honjin Murders

A Locked Room Murder Mystery

This month we read The Honjin Murders by Seishi Yokomizo. This one was one of Ben’s picks and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. My first thought was some kind of horror nonsense like he always picks. It’s FEBRUARY *BEN* pick something appropriate for the month! Jerk!

Well it turns out he did pick something appropriate. After all this is the story of a wedding and February is the month of love. The story is one about a couple in pre-WW2 Japan who get married and celebrate their wedding night with family (and feudal tenants). The two are madly in love and a merry time was had by all. I’m shocked that Ben would pick such a romantic book, but here we are. Anyway everyone lives happily ever after I’m sure let me just turn the page… uh… oh no… oh no the blood is everywhere!

Yes obviously this is a murder mystery (it’s called the Honjin MURDERS after all) and a locked-room one at that. It’s told from the perspective of the author who fictionally interviewed people about the murders 10 years later and is describing them to us in the present post-war day. I think it was an overall fun book that peers into the world of rural pre-war Japan and invents the quirky detective character of Kosuke Kindaichi. Its also very clear from the text that the author really enjoys mysteries (not just because he name drops them all) and understands the intricacies (and failings) of creating one. Overall I really enjoyed this novel.

You didn’t come here to hear me just talk about positives and there are a few negatives to touch upon as well. I won’t go into exhaustive detail or spoil the mystery here (you have to listen to our podcast episode for that) but suffice it to say you couldn’t have really solved this mystery. One of the biggest problems is that this book is too short. That’s a rarity on our podcast where we usually tackle books that pad out the novel length way too much. In this case we really needed to know more about who Kenzo (the murdered groom) in order to solve whodunit. The detective gets a batch of Kenzo’s diaries and crafts a mental image of him in his mind but doesn’t share with the audience until the big reveal which is too late to share such crucial information. Also the author points out, much like in Scream actually, that they’re dealing with a Locked Room Murder Mystery and every LRMM has a stupid Rube Goldberg device to accomplish something that otherwise couldn’t have happened. Well the author points this out… and then has a stupid Rube Goldberg device that flings the murder weapon out of the room after it has done the killing. Swing and a miss there my friend. Anyway let’s get onto the rubric


Content and Ideas (11/20)

It’s hard to say that this is “original” when it shows all of its work. It cites all of its inspiration and, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to do anything new with those ideas. It’s a straight up vanilla LRMM complete with implausible set-up and stupid Rube Goldberg machine. It also doesn’t flesh out a lot of these characters. If there were 50 more pages there could’ve been more info about the killer, the victims, and a lot of the potential killers (the mother of the groom comes to mind as someone who appears super shifty and basically fades into the background after the murder occurs). I will give credit though that it’s never boring and the detective character of Kindaichi is fun enough to carry the story.

Organization (15/20)

This is difficult. It could almost be a level 5 (20/20) but ultimately I think it falls just short. The pacing, I feel, is brisk and connects all the main points together in a satisfying way. The wording on a level 5 though is “without it feeling forced” and there was definitely a point where it felt forced for the sake of the genre. Still, not a lot to complain about here.

Word Choice (15/20)

This one is hard to grade because this was originally written in another language AND another time. It was recently (the wiki says 2019) translated to English and in the translation I’m sure there was a great deal lost. Furthermore, as Ben pointed out, this uses modern day English. If it had been translated in the 40s when this book originally came out it would feel as dated as it should be. He gives the example of an Agatha Christie book. It’s in English, yes, but it’s about (and set in) a bygone era of English history. It feels like its from another time and place in another age and that feeling is what gives it some of its magic. I would guess that if this were the original Japanese and I could read it, I might give this higher scoring. That being said, I can’t. I can only grade what I have in front of me. Even that is pretty good, however. The narrator talks to us, the audience, and has a playful demeanor and knows how to build an atmosphere even when translated into English after the death of the author. I say that takes some skill.

Personal Preference (15/20)

Strongly enjoyed this book there were just a few things that didn’t stick the landing. I think the ultimate reveal kind of was a flub and I already explained why. I also just am not a fan of the Rube Goldberg thing. I didn’t like it in And Then There Were None and I especially don’t like it when the author points out how disappointing it is… and then does it anyway. Other than minor gripes, however, this is a generally enjoyable book.

Recommendation Strength (15/20)

Fans of mystery books will enjoy it. Fans of locked-door mystery books will like this. I even give this a weak recommendation for general audiences. I think if anything I said about this book intrigues you in the slightest then I think you ought to give it a shot. It comes in at less than 200 pages, goes by quickly, and you might even learn some things about pre-war Japan.


Also just a brief aside. I know it’s probably a work at this point but I can’t help but take one more shot at The Rock and how he’s out here ruining everything he touches.

Nate Creed

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