With more than a passing nod to Holmes & Watson THE TOKYO ZODIAC MURDERS by Soji Shimada owes much to the iconic duo and acknowledges that with Kazumi Ishioka’s love of detective fiction.

Astrologer, fortuneteller, and self-styled detective Kiyoshi Mitarai must in one week solve a macabre murder mystery that has baffled Japan for 40 years. Who murdered the artist Umezawa, raped and killed his daughter, and then chopped up the bodies of six others to create Azoth, the supreme woman? With maps, charts, and other illustrations, this story of magic and illusion, pieced together like a great stage tragedy, challenges the reader to unravel the mystery before the final curtain. 

Admittedly the beginning is a rough go. The letter that opens the book is long, rambling, and a bit on the esoteric side regarding alchemy, the zodiac (Western not Chinese) and the metallurgic relations to the signs. I almost gave up.

The action, and story, picks up and improves dramatically with the appearance of Kiyoshi Metari & Kazumi Ishioka. Kazumi has given Kiyoshi the book to read. He’s eager to discuss and attempt to solve the murder case with him, thinking to lift Kiyoshi from his doldrums. After they’re given a letter with inside information into the mystery and an encounter with the letter writer’s son, Kiyoshi promises to solve the mystery in a week. Kiyoshi and Kazumi go to various locations and each pursues their own line of reasoning.

It’s a mini murder mystery vacation.

The author actually interjects himself into the narrative at a couple of points to let readers know they have all the clues required to solve the mystery and encouraging them to do so before reading further. Reading the afterword is recommended. It explains that this is actually a sub-genre of Japanese mystery fiction meaning authentic, it relies on plotting and delivering the clues to the reader so they too can solve it, as well as other info of interest.

I’ve read many translations of international mysteries. Typically there’s an initial adjustment period for me to familiarize myself with names, places, and cultural differences before getting lost in the mystery. The story no longer feels foreign. That wasn’t the case with THE TOKYO ZODIAC MURDERS. Even after getting wrapped up in the mystery I still felt like a visitor to Japan. I think that’s actually part of the appeal. It’s a mini murder mystery vacation.

THE TOKYO ZODIAC MURDERS, once past the long winded letter, is interesting and different enough to appeal to those who enjoy a good mystery and relish solving it along with or even before the “detective”. Kiyoshi Metari appears in a series of books for those who’d like to read more of him and his “cases”.

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About the Reviewer

Ivy Truitt
Transplanted Southerner and avid reader. My tastes are eclectic. I discovered mysteries first then historicals in the era of Kathleen Woodiwiss & Rosemary Rogers. I was never able to finish Gone With the Wind, Scarlett got on my nerves too bad, but I loved Alaina in Ashes in the Wind. I also manage the guest author blog for Manic Readers. In addition to here you can find me on FB, Twitter, Goodreads, Librarything, & Riffle. Always up for talking about books, just gimme a holler!!