The 8 Mansion Murders (Takemaru Abiko)

By Takemaru Abiko

First published: Japan, 1989

First English translation: Locked Room International, 2018


2 stars

Like most shin honkaku, it’s abstract and skeletal.

No atmosphere; no sense of the wider world; and little story or plot complexity.  The characters barely exist; they’re not even plot functions, more names to fill up rooms in the 8 Mansion.

The explanation (with lengthy cribbing from Carr’s Locked Room Lecture) is tedious.  The solution to one locked room is clever, if hard to swallow; the other is plausible, but not exciting.  Neither is in Carr or Chesterton’s class.

Nor is there any convincing motive for the crimes; the murderer, we learn, is mad.

There are, though, a couple of clever false solutions, and a boomerang misdirection.

It’s also apparently aimed at children (gruesome murders aside).  The police detective’s squabbling teenage siblings solve his case for him.  Sample dialogue:

I’m not jealous.

Yes, you are.

No, I am not.

You are soooooooooooo.

For yucks, the policeman accidentally maims his hapless sidekick.  He sprains his legs; breaks all his limbs; and sends him hurtling down a 200-step-long staircase in a wheelchair.

(NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!)

The Japanese also invented gameshows where people climb up spiked walls; are squashed by balls; fall into shallow moats from a height; eat spaghetti in dryers; and try to force grasshoppers down their opponent’s throat.  Usually while sliding over a line of oiled girls in bikinis.

15 thoughts on “The 8 Mansion Murders (Takemaru Abiko)

  1. I’m with you on this one. It’s pure manga, a Case Closed sort of case, where the boy detective finds the serial killer of a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick maker, but not without getting splattered with cow guts, hit in the face with pies, and reamed by a lit taper. Loads of laughs.

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    1. I haven’t read any manga, but I thought it might be written in that spirit. Isn’t manga a lot of really wide mouths shouting?
      (I’ve never got into comics – except Tintin, Asterix, and Blake & Mortimer.)

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      1. They can be? Depends on the manga. I’m far from an expert (Ho-Ling would know more), but I would associate the more exaggerated faces with shonen (for young boys, Case Closed falls under that) or shojo (for young girls) Manga is essentially a Japanese comic book.

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  2. I mean, I can’t argue as such — but then I like the abstract skeletation of shin honkaku. Sure, you put it up against the best of GAD and it falls down on atmosphere and world-building, but I’m here for the ideas, probably in much the same way that has made me such a Halter apologist (hey, at least I’m consistent!).

    GAD-style stuff was written during the GAD era. This isn’t trying to be that, consider — it’s taking it and pushing it into something different enough to warrant exploring. If it was exactly the same as stuff happening 70 years earlier, what, after all, would be the point? 🙂

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    1. A book shouldn’t be all plot or mystery; it should also have characterization, atmosphere, style, and story.

      But we *really* disagree on the merits of Freeman Wills Crofts on one hand, and Nicholas Blake, G.K. Chesterton, Gladys Mitchell, and Dorothy L. Sayers on the other!

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      1. Well, see, that’s my exact point above — the idea of what a mystery novel should be is being directly challenged by shin honkaku. Soji Shimada himself has addressed this, writing of Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Decagon House Murders:

        [H]e ruthlessly eliminated all the elements which Van Dine had thought necessary to make his stories “literary,” such as the depiction of the American upper class; the witticisms; the attention to prideful women; the cheerful conversations while the wine is poured at dinner; the polite demeanour of the butler and servants. Thus his novel approached the form of a game more so than anything previously written.

        As a result, his characters act almost like robots, their thoughts depicted only minimally through repetitive phrases. The narration shows no interest in sophisticated writing or a sense of art and is focused solely on telling the story.

        It’s precisely because of the conception of what a novel “should” be that shin honkaku has developed as it did. I’m not saying it’s right and you’re wrong, but by chastising it for not containing elements it’s deliberately trying to exclude one would effectively be criticising a hat for not being a motorbike.

        I appreciate this isn’t going to make you like it any more than you currently do, I just wanted to clarify my perspectvie 😀

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      2. I live in hope of eventually getting a one-word mystery that sets up and resolves a brilliantly baffling problem and peoples it with rich characters. Hemingway and his six words have lorded it over us for too long…

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  3. Ah. Okay then. Doesn’t sound like my cup of miso at all. I appreciate the warning.

    Incredibly, this very title (and some Paul Halter books, if I’m not mistaken) is available in my local library — in a small town in the middle of the U.S. where access to international niche fiction is not exactly a given — and I had briefly selected it and carried around. Then I returned it when I realized I’d have no time to read it. From your synopsis, I’m not sure how far I would have gotten if I had.

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