#405: The 8 Mansion Murders (1989) by Takemaru Abiko [trans. Ho-Ling Wong 2018]

8 Mansion Murdersstar filledstar filledstar filledstar filledstars
Before we get onto the book itself, it’s worth mentioning that this is the twenty-ninth publication from Locked Room International.  Under the stewardship of John Pugmire, we’ve been brought a wonderful mix of classic and modern impossible crime novels and short stories from all corners of the globe, and — given the standard of their recent output — it certainly seems that the best is far from past.  I anticipate a great many excellent, obscure, and previously-untranslated works coming our way in the years ahead thanks to LRI, and I wanted to take a moment to recognise the work that goes into making this happen.

Whichever way you choose to read the title — either “8 murders in the mansion” or “Murders in The 8 Mansion” — it’s a title that offers up plenty of potential.  It’s the second reading that is correct, and so we can add this to the scores of books in which the building where most of the actions takes place plays almost the role of a character in the narrative, joining such luminaries as fellow LRI translations Death in the House of Rain (2006) and The Decagon House Murders (1987), Carter Dickson’s debut The Plague Court Murders (1934), and the recently-republished works of Roger Scarlett.  And, trusting the setup to carry the story, what we get is a simple enough conundrum to begin with: Kikuichirō Hachisuka shot by a crossbow in his family’s eponymous, unusually-shaped mansion (plenty of floorplans to delight in here)…whodunnit?

There are a few wrinkles beyond that — two witnesses see the murder take place, and the obvious culprit, from whose room the shot was fired, denies his involvement — but that’s essentially the setup for the first half of the book: our detective Kyōzō Hayami and his subordinate Kinoshita descend upon the mansion, question the suspects, and stumble upon things that will later turn out to be relevant in true Golden Age style.  At about the halfway point a second baffling murder occurs, rendered impossible by the physical evidence, and Kyōzō and Kinoshita — the latter increasingly imperiled by slapstick shenanigans — must untangle the skein…

If the narrative is rather trimmed down, it leaves plenty of space for you to appreciate how this book represents an increasing excitement about the potentiality of the Western-style detective story.  Soji Shimada’s introduction superbly supplies the context for the young men and women of the Kyōto University Mystery Club who would meet to discuss classic-era GAD works of fiction and begin to incorporate elements of them into their own writing.  Abiko’s narrative explicitly mentions ‘The Border-Line Case’ (1937) by Margery Allingham (alas, with spoilers), The Hollow Man (1935), The Emperor’s Snuff-Box (1942), and The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (1945) by John Dickson Carr, Death from a Top Hat (1938) by Clayton Rawson, genre lynchpin The Big Bow Mystery (1892) by Israel Zangwill, Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie, and sleuths of the calibre of Ellery Queen, Inspector Joseph French, Gideon Fell, and Henry Merrivale among others, with the author himself providing footnotes on these then-unexplored influences and Ho-Ling Wong’s excellent footnotes filling out many of the Japanese references that would otherwise be lost to Western audiences (The Deduction of Tortoiseshell Cat Holmes, for one, sounds like it could be a blast…).

The whole affair has a sense of voracity about it where paying dues is concerned, extending to the locked room lecture towards the end of the novel that prefaces the eventual solution.  You really feel Abiko’s enthusiasm bleeding through, although those of us who have read even generally in the genre will find very little if anything new in that treatise, and may wish for a little more incident between the murders.  But this is also has more to it than simply some extended nerd-out over a new and seemingly-bottomless enthusiasm — there are some great moments of dry humour, though the increasingly-ludicrous fates befalling Kinoshita don’t really hurdle the  cultural barrier, and off-kilter moments such as Kyōzō’s opinions of people owing a lot to trichology:

Kyōzō’s first impression of Kikuji was that of a smug individual, further confirmed when he noticed the man’s luxuriant black hair.

And:

Well into his forties, he had no facial hair, unlike many of his contemporaries, which for some reason left a good impression on Kyōzō.

There’s also a glorious skewering of the unabashed brainlessness of magazine-style TV shows, and a superb acidity in the suggestion that a woman would only welcome the servant accused of murdering her son back into her house because she’s struggling to keep everything running smoothly.  You’re not here for the characters, but they do remain distinct, even if a couple of them are a little interchangeable, and Kyōzō’s detective novel-obsessed siblings Shinji and Ichio treat the whole, y’know, double murder thing with a little bit too much scholarly remove when holding forth on accusations and lectures come the closing stages.

Suffice to say, the two solutions are excellent, with the first occurring to me in principle if not precise detail, and the second being a very, very smart way of reworking the expectations of the impossible crime.  For someone who is so delightedly geeking out on classic locked room murders, too, Abiko has found a way to inveigle their spirit into his own updating of the same, with these solutions fitting as well into anything by Carr as they do the milieu offered herein.  So, yeah, Number 29 is a rollicking success, and comes highly recommended, especially if you’ve yet to take a dip into the shin honkaku waters LRI are so brilliantly bringing to our shores.  And I’m left hoping that the prominent mention of Rintaro Norizuki in the introduction augurs well for further translations of his work down the line…

~

See also

Aidan @ Mysteries Ahoy!: The puzzle is a solid one though I was somewhat surprised that I worked out exactly how it was accomplished about two fifths of the way into the book. This is rather baffling to me as it is quite unlike me to have the first clue about solving an impossible crime, let alone getting it done so early in the text. When this sort of thing happens I usually caution that I may just have been lucky but I do think there are several significant details mentioned that may prove suggestive to seasoned readers of the genre.

Brad @ AhSweetMysteryBlog: While the family’s banter feels (conservatively) modern, the mystery itself is pure GAD. The author utilizes all sorts of classic narrative tools and techniques, including providing us with six diagrams of the mansion’s topography: three floors of rooms separated by a yawning courtyard which is, in turn, bisected by a gallery on each floor, creating the figure eight of the title. False solutions are presented before the truth is unveiled, and I would venture to say that in this case the true solution is the most absorbing of the bunch.

Ho-Ling Wong: The novel’s a tribute to the impossible crime mystery in the spirit of John Dickson Carr, which also happens to be a hilarious adventure. Comedy is a trademark of Abiko, but don’t let the funny bickering between the various characters fool you, as the core is as classic as you can get, with impossible murders inside an odd, “8”-shaped house, and a genuine locked room lecture!

~

For the Follow the Clues Mystery Challenge, this links to The Affair of the Bottled Deuce from last week because the solution to the murder in that book is discussed very explicitly in this one.

52 thoughts on “#405: The 8 Mansion Murders (1989) by Takemaru Abiko [trans. Ho-Ling Wong 2018]

  1. Wonderful review JJ and thanks for the link. I was looking forward to reading your thoughts and perspective on this. I am happy that you enjoyed the solutions as much as I did. The second is a particular joy and wonderfully simple in how it is conceived.

    • Given the borderline-impossible nature of the first death — it’s even commented upon in the closing lecture — I was very pleased with how smartly impossible the second one was. Quibbles exist, of course, but I especially enjoyed how the misdirection worked…especially as I had a slightly different version of the first murder in mind and was struggling to reconcile the two.

      I suggest we setup a crowd-funding website to enable Ho-Ling to work full time on further Arisugawa, Ayatsuji, Norizuki, Shimada, and all other wonderful Japanese authors so that we can get them over the language barrier more quickly (Szu-Yen Lin does his own translations, so he’s fine); who’s with me…?!

        • Was I impolite? Sincere apologies if I came across as impolite — I’m just eager to get my hands on as much of this stuff as I can. I’ve only got another 70 or 80 years to live, so we need to get a move on with making it happen!!

  2. I already read this and my review will appear early next month, but I can agree with your four-star rating. This was a good and fun locked room mystery.

    • Delighted we agree — however, it leaves me unsure as to whether that means normal service is resumed or not.

      In other news, I recently took possession of two modern (hopefully) locked room novels that I’ll be sure to get through in the next couple of months. So either a recommendation or an assurance that you’re fine without something in your life will be coming your way soon-ish. I wonder if I’ve found anything unknown to you; I mean, I doubt it, but a man can dream…

      • Either way, I’m looking forward to your reviews. You can never have enough locked room recommendations. Or knowing which ones to give a pass.

        I actually have a string of non-impossible crime reviews lined up for July, if you can believe such a thing.

        • Good grief, a string of non-impossible crime novel reviews at your place? That almost seems like an impossibility in itself…!

          I’ll get to one of those novels in the next few weeks, or hopefully by the end of July at the latest. It is to be hoped that something exciting results.

  3. Thanks for the review. 😊 I enjoyed this novel too, despite not liking the humour and some pieces of characterisation very much. I found the first impossible crime conceptually dated, though I confess I didn’t (couldn’t?) figure how, precisely, the trick was played out. The second impossible crime impressed me, and I enjoyed the solution very much. 😲

    I definitely agree that we want more translations from Ho Ling; I’m eagerly anticipating the next shin honkaku release from Locked Room International. 🤩 Could I just say that Szu-Yen Lin is a Taiwanese, and not Japanese, writer – though he definitely writes in the vein of the shin honkaku.

    • Oh. sure, sorry — I didn’t mean to imply Lin was part of the Japanese school, I just felt I should justify his exclusion from this list of Eastern translations. He has no excuse, we expect more from him soon!

      The humour is one of those very developed and individual things…but, then, isn’t all humour? Some people probably don’t find Edmund Crispin funny, and I was fighting back my gorge while reading the “comedic” exploits of Alice Tilton’s protagonists. To each his own.

      The first trick I was aided in visualising because of its similarity to one of the genre classics. You may know which one, I shall be circumspect for anyone who has not read either (which, yes, will render this comparison practically useless unless you know what I’m talking about — nudge, wink, if you follow me, squire).

      • This squire follows you . . . see previous response to John. Given how much of an homage to Carr and the classicists this was, I figured it wasn’t impossible that the first murder would itself pay homage to a classic. (Note: this only led me to the “how” – I think the “who” comes out of left field here and wish there had been some foundation laid for the “why.”

        • Yeah, the “who” and “why” are rather out of left field, which is really the largest part of where this falls down for me. Man, am I looking for character and motivation as well as fabulous mechanics? Is this…maturity?

      • Yes, I definitely hope Szue- Yen Lin translates more of his works. 🤩

        I agree that humour can be a tricky one – I’d pick Crispin over Tilton, as the humour in the latter’s writing tends to be coupled with events that make the story hard for me to follow (or do I mean swallow?). 🙄

        I think I caught on to the trick for the first murder because of Kindaichi. It took me some time to guess which “genre classic” you were referring to. But I think I now know – I fell asleep halfway through the novel… 😵

        • Could it be because that classic is rather . . . . . . boring?!? Don’t worry, John: if JJ kicks you out of his place, you can come hang out at mine. 🙂

          • Thanks for the hospitality, Brad. 😊

            I daresay JJ himself concurs that this classic isn’t the strongest work within the author’s oeuvre. Despite a long history of praise, recent blog opinions seem to also rank other works above this classic. I enjoyed it, but can see that there are other works that prove more compelling. 😎

          • I wouldn’t use the word “boring”, but the words I would use wouldn’t be entirely complimentary. It is, however, still a classic. But then aren’t plenty of classics flawed in one way or another?

            Good heavens, this has become suddenly very transcendental…

    • I’m with John on the humor!! And folks! How can you all say you’re fans of John Dickson Carr and not have figured out the first murder!!! Holy mackerel!

      • I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so, Brad. 😊 I didn’t figure out the first murder, but I wondered at one juncture if a certain trick was being played – only to discover that it was being played! And so I wasn’t especially keen on the first murder. Though what triggered my hunch wasn’t Carr but Kindaichi. 😁

    • In no particular order, I’d say my favourites are The Decagon House Murders, The Moai Island Puzzle, The Ginza Ghost, and this one 😉

        • Yes, it isn’t strictly impossible – saying whether it is or isn’t may veer into spoiler territory. I like to think of it as retrospectively impossible. 😅 I think my bigger reservation with the book is that it doesn’t strike me to be especially fair-clued.

          • Interesting; IIRC — and consider that I probably don’t — the motive comes a little bit out of nowhere, but the narrative does a superb job at lulling one into a series of assumptions that turn out to be false. There’s definitely an element of not explicitly being able to work out some elements, but at the same time what I like is how it never occurs to the reader (or, at least, didn’t occur to me) to question some of what we’re not shown, so that certain things become permissable. But, alas, beyond that I feel we’re getting too close to specifics…!

          • The first time I read it, I too thought the twist of Decagon was sprung kinda suddenly upon me, but I had to spend quite some time on the book during translation of course, and it’s actually plotted reasonably fairly towards the reader. It does require the reader to realize a certain fact, but that fact is actually hinted at through various, multi-staged clues.

            ROT13: 1) Vg vf rfgnoyvfurq gung bar pna hfr n obng gb tb gb gur vfynaq. 2) Gur tebhc frnepurq gur vfynaq qhevat gur qnl, svaqvat ab bgure crefba gurer 3) Bayl bar punenpgre sebz gur znvaynaq nqzvgf gb xabjvat nobhg jurer gur tebhc jnf va nqinapr. 4) Bayl bar punenpgre sebz gur znvaynaq vf arire frra qhevat gur qnl. 5) Bayl bar punenpgre sebz gur znvaynaq fzbxrf gur fnzr oenaq naq vf qrfpevorq va n fvzvyne jnl gb n punenpgre jub ncccrnef ba gur vfynaq qhevat gur qnl. -> Fb juvyr vg zvtug abg or cbffvoyr gb qrqhpr gung n pregnva punenpgre ba gur vfynaq qvq vg, vg vf pregnvayl cbffvoyr gb qrqhpr gung gung punenpgre jnf gur fnzr nf nabgure, naq gurer jnf bayl bar ernfba sbe gurz gb cynl n qbhoyr ebyr.

            • I’m really looking forward to rereading Decagon House Murders knowing the ending — I’m sure there will be a huge amount to pick up on second time around. It’s still about my favourite moment of revelation ever; I legitimately nearly dropped the book when I got there.

        • As Jonathan says, it’s impossible retrospectively — like And Then There Were None, it’s about how someone on the island can be killing everyone. The reveal of who and how is one of the most surprising moments I’d read in a long, long time.

          • I literally just finished the decagon house murders. Can’t say how much I agree about the ending. What an idea! If it had better prose, it’d be easy 10/10 for me.

            As for Abiko’s book, I like it just vas much except for the final part which was too much.
            I agree about the first method being quite easy ( I enjoyed how this plays out at the end) and the second one is quite clever indeed!

            Incidentally I often work in a place whose fire escape plan depicts it as a 8. I noticed it last week.

            • This and Death in the House of Rain have got me properly obsessed with the shapes of buildings and rooms. Like, it’s freaking me out just how much I’m fixating on this at times.

              Should we expect news of many baffling murders in that office building? 🙂

            • House of Rain had a crazy building indeed…

              That building is goddamn awful. I always find myself lost in it so probably not 😛

            • On the subject of crazy buildings, I’m looking forward to the Roger Scarlett book that has, I believe, nine floorplans. That, people, sounds like a crazy building…

            • I happened to have a post today on my blog about some of the more memorable floorplans I came across in Japanese mystery fiction, in case you’re interested 😛

            • I’ve seen it, it looks great — shall read it a bit later when I have some time; I have one in mind on floorplans myself, so it’ll be interesting to see if a) we have different intentions or, more likely, b) you do a far better job than I would and so there’s no need for me to write mine 😀

            • Looking forward to your review on Decagon House, Dan. 😊 To be more specific, I wouldn’t say Decagon House is unfair, in that the final twist and solution can fit with the preceding narrative. But I would say that it tends toward the ‘light’ end of the spectrum on fair clues and concrete evidence.

  4. Thanks for the review!

    Personally, I really love Shinji and Ichio, as they are basically “us”: we’d love things to be like the books, and of course a murder has to be “interesting”, rather than “functional”!

    Comedy is definitely a thing your mileage might vary on. I’ve only read one Crispin, and I didn’t really think it noticably funny, and man, some of the supposedly funny Carrs… Abiko absolutely loves teasing his characters, also in his other creations. The influential game Kamaitachi no Yoru (AKA Banshee’s Last Cry) is like a digital Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, with the story changing through choices you make throughout the game, and most of the time when you’re confronted with a choice, there’s a funny one too, that usually spells doom for the protagonist. One of the more infamous choices is near the end of the game, when you can accuse the murderer, and it gives you the choices of A) I am the murderer! B) Mari (girlfriend) is the murderer! or C) The murderer is…. (input name). Let’s say that A & B have interesting consequences 😛

    About Norizuki, most of his novels starring the character of Rintaro are more like Queen novels, focusing on the process of logical reasoning and a whodunnit plot (and after the early “For Yoriko”, it’s also about post-modernist angsting about the role of a detective like Ellery did in his later books). His short stories too are a bit more like the Ellery short stories, with more a focus on determining whodunnit and the thinking process behind that. Locked room mysteries like The Lure of the Green Door are actually quite rare in his bibliography, even in his non-series shorts.

    • Well, thanks for breaking my heart over Norizuki 😀 I’d still love to read anything else he’s written, ‘The Lure of the Green Door’ is one of the finest impossible shorts I’ve ever read and I’d be fascinated to see how he applied himself to any other form of detective writing. If they’re not impossible crimes…well, I’ll cope.

      Are their other Abiko titles that you think would be worth translating? And where does this sit overall in the titles of his you’ve read?

      • I haven’t read that much of Abiko actually, at least, in book form: I’ve probably played as many games with scenarios written by him. There are two other novels with the Hayamis, that do similar takes on other familiar GAD set-ups, but no impossibilities IIRC. But I’d say The 8 Mansion Murders is a good and representative example of his style, with a rather classic GAD-like plot surrounded with a lot of comedy (that is used to hide clues/hints etc.).

        Abiko’s output has always been very varied, with his exploits for the genre of mystery videogames being of actual historical importance, so while not realistic at all, I’d love to see the PSP videogame Trick X Logic localized sometime! It’s a really wonderful game that has the player read through stories written by writers like Abiko, Arisugawa, Ayatsuji and a couple of other shin honkaku writers. After reading the first part of each story, you have to solve the story yourself by finding key terms in the text, and combining them to generate new insights (i.e. [time of death] + [alibi] = [opportunity]). Not all of these insights will be correct, but you use them to solve the mystery. It’s a wonderful translation of a whodunnit story into a playable game, and it really fits the style of these shin honkaku writers who often follow the Queen style of clewing.

        • Only in Japan! 😦

          American video games are shoot-em-ups and fantasy adventures. Few detectives, lots of soldiers, zombies, elves, orcs, monsters, demons, and mercenaries. If I had the chance to play all the games you describe, I would have a PS3 and probably weigh 400 pounds. Agghh, it’s probably for the best that the U.S. gaming industry finds no marketing value in whodunnits.

          And while I appreciate that John Pugmire performs a service of great value to locked room mystery lovers, who out there is going to take up the slack for all the shin honkaku-styled mysteries out there which don’t involve an impossible crime?!?

          • Yeah, I’ve been having that exact same thought about the non-impossible shin honkaku novels: when and how do we get them? I mean, sure, it’s typical white middle class ungratefulness to look at these translations we are getting and loving and immediately complain about what else we’re not, but it does rather seem like the current trend in lazy thrillers is unlikely to suddenly transform into a fascination with rigorous and inventive Eastern detective fiction — so, like, will they ever be translated?

            It might actually be quicker if I learned Japanese. After French, of course. Which is not going well, by the way.

            • Quelle dommage, pauvre petit. Je ne parle pas beaucoup de Francais aussi, mais je ne voudrais pas commencer avec les libres d’Halter comme vous.

              That’s about the best I can do! And hey! Isn’t Pugmire supposed to have a new Halter out for the summer? Call him up and tell him to get crackin’!

            • It’s my understanding that a new Halter is due out over the summer, yes indeed. You seem…weirdly eager for it. Is everything okay, or is this just holiday euphoria kicking in?

            • A new Halter novel out soon! 🤩😍 I’m saving up my remaining Halter novels, such that I can only read one more each time a new title gets translated and released.

              And so if a title comes out soon I can get started on “Tiger’s Head”! 🧐

        • I’m with Brad, those types of video games — coming from someone who hasn’t really been bothered with video games since his Super Nintendo stopped being relevant in about 1996 — sound amazing.

          Man, if only I had access to that culture. And the time, money, and skill to enjoy it. Ahhh, what a life…

          • I really do think it’s a shame I’m probably only the only regular mystery blogger who writes about mystery videogames, because they have so much to offer for the genre. Many concepts simply don’t work well in book, video (film/TV) or audio (audio dramas) form, but work wonderfully as interactive games. Things like clues that you can check any time, interactive floorplans, parallel, but interlocked storylines or digital CYOAs, non-linear storytelling: there are some mystery games out there that do fantastic things with ideas like these that are easily better than many novels out there. Because a mystery game is also player-dependent, the type of storytelling is also quite unique, having a distinct different ‘grammar’ than what most readers are usually used to. To me, videogames are as much a part of the mystery genre as books, films/series or audio dramas, so I always find it… odd? I guess, that other mystery bloggers barely acknowledge their existence.

            • I read your videogame stuff and get extremely interested in the ideas…but I have to admit that it’s all beyond me in terms of time and technology (I’m a simple soul…). I can see that it’ll perhaps be the new frontier for mystery fiction, though, for all the reasons you suggest, so maybe we should start plotting one now so that it’s ready to sell when the market suddenly explodes.

  5. Pingback: Another great review of The 8 Mansion Murders – Locked Room International

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