Crimes in foreign climes

The Inugami Curse (Seishi Yokomizo, 1951; Pushkin Vertigo, trans. Yumiko Yamakazi) is a classic of Japanese detective fiction, adapted twice for the cinema. Yokomizo, an admirer of John Dickson Carr, understands what should go into a mystery. Businessman Sahei Inugami leaves behind a will provoking multiple murder; there is a masked heir who may be an impostor (à la Crooked Hinge); several gruesome deaths; and a shambling but brilliant amateur sleuth. This is not, however, the genteel world of English detective fiction. The Inugamis are repellent, driven by greed and hatred; a father does not love his children; his children persecute his mistress; and his grandson tries to rape his cousin. The murderer comes as no surprise, nor is it intended to. For the mystery to satisfy, the culprit must be one of three (at most, four) people. But the solution involves an elaborate scheme (some of which the experienced reader will have suspected). It has the ingenuity of depth.

A parvenu grocer multi-millionaire is shot at The Forbidden House (Herbert & Wyl, 1932; Locked Room International, trans. John Pugmire), a French manor where one former owner has already died, and others have run away in terror. The killer is seen entering the house by several witnesses – but vanishes from the scene of the crime. ‘A man went in … how did he get out?’

The first of Herbert & Wyl’s three detective stories, La maison interdite is well regarded by French critics. Roland Lacourbe says the book rivals in ingenuity more than one English classic; the construction is remarkable; and the solution, although simple, is never predicted by the reader. Soupart, Fooz, & Bourgeois praise the superbly arranged plot, and consider the reconstruction of the crime a triumph of logic.

This has the intellectual excitement of the best detective stories. The most Carrian thing about it, perhaps, is not the “impossibility”, but the aplomb with which the investigators argue, constructing apparently watertight cases, then demolishing them with equal logic. (Compare Death-Watch, The Arabian Nights Murder, and To Wake the Dead.) The solution does not astound, but it is simple, elegant, and satisfying.

3 thoughts on “Crimes in foreign climes

  1. Thoroughly agree on the first — the two Yokomizos thus far translated have had a lot to recommend them, and I’m very much looking forward to The Village of Eight Graves later this year — and very excited to read the second as I’ve had my fingers crossed for that one for a long time.

    Liked by 1 person

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