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Soji Shimada Books In Order

Publication Order of Pushkin Vertigo Books

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (2015) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Murder in the Crooked House (2019) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Soji Shimada is a Japanese author of mystery and thriller books. Born in Fukuyama City in Hiroshima he attended Seishikan High School and later joined Musashino Art University where he graduated with a degree in Commercial Arts.

After years working as a musician, dump truck driver, and a free writer, he published his first mystery novel, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders. The book was an Edogawa Rampo Prize finalist. His other popularly known books include Detective Yoshiki series and the Detective Mitarai Series. His novels revolve around the themes of the death penalty, international culture, and Japanese. He’s an avid supporter of the Honkaku mystery writers.

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

Soji Shimada’s debut novel is divided into different sections. The first is a foreword in which the author challenges the reader to try and solve the murder mysteries themselves. The author claims that every important clue will be included in the story and that none of the characters will have an unfair advantage over the readers.

The first item in the story is a fictional short story set in pre-World War II Japan in the Showa period. We meet a painter and skirt-chaser named Heikichi Umezawa, a man obsessed with alchemy and astrology. He is a rich older man from a respectable family living in a traditional sprawling house. He’s winding up his painting- each representing a member of the Zodiac. As he’s working on his last art, his head is smashed with a blunt object. The murder is a mystery itself because it took place on a snowy day, and all the suspects on the list have solid alibis. It’s further discovered that the room is locked from the inside and there’s no way the killer could have come from the outside.

Upon further investigations on the painting studio, a notebook is found containing a mysterious piece of prose, the same short story which starts the novel. In the notebook story, the narrator identifies himself as the old man who was killed tells about his never ending battle with diabolism, mental disease, and his urge to create the ideal woman named Azoth which he will achieve by cutting his two nieces, his three stepdaughters and his two daughters. He excludes one of his daughters, Kazue Kanemoto because she isn’t a virgin. Each one will be slaughtered using an alchemically valuable metal and buried in a place where those metals are found. The man further states that all these murders will be carried out after finishing up the Aries portrait. But shortly afterward, Kazue Kanemoto is found murdered in the same manner as her father.

After the killing, the six future victims Heikichi’s nieces, stepdaughters and remaining daughters and Heikichi’s wife travel to Mt. Yahiko to appease the dead man’s spirit. The six victims split up there and vanish until their bodies are discovered, all buried near mines producing the different metals listed in the notebook and all mutilated as listed in the book. These killings become a national sensation, and each one remains unsolved for the next four decades.
The novel jumps forward to the present day where we meet a fan of mysteries and a freelance illustrator, Kazumi Ishioka. He’s teaching his astrologer friend Kiyoshi Mitarai about the zodiac murders. Ishioka had met a man who claimed to have new evidence on the killings.

The first act in the book (consists of 5 chapters) provides the reader with all the information needed about the different possible suspects, and also includes a confession by a cop involved in the investigation of the brutal murder of Kazue. Around the time Kazue was killed, he had gone with her to her house. An anonymous letter arrived from one of the many secret organizations in pre-war Japan which blackmailed him for bedding Kazue. He would have become the main suspect if the police ever heard of it and his reputation would be ruined. His confession would later lead to a chilling revelation to the six zodiac murders.

In the second part of the novel, Mitarai and Ishioka travel to Kyoto to interview survivors related to this case. The third and final act is an extensive investigation of the Kyoto people and its environs.

Murder in the Crooked House

Initially published in 1982, Murder in the Crooked House would later be revised in 2016. Dubbed as the God of Mystery, Soji Shimada has woven a fascinating mystery that does not near one that you have ever read.

The story opens up with an un identified narrator (who’s later revealed just before the novel ends) narrating the murders that occurs at the Ice Floe Mansion in Japan. Modeled in part to resemble the leaning tower of Pisa, the mansion leans at a slight angle.

The interior of the house is a maze of rooms, a drawbridge, and staircases. The house was built and built by Kozaburo Hamamoto, a successful businessman to serve as his retirement home. The old man lives with his 23-year-old daughter and his mysterious collection of clockwork dolls and Tengu masks.

Written in play form, the tale is set over Christmas Holiday in 1983. The mansion owner invites his friends and associates to spend the Christmas holiday with him. But there is a big blizzard and then his friends start to die one by one. In their guest rooms, there are no signs of forceful entry. The local police are puzzled, and no solution to the murders can be found until when Kiyoshi Miatrai and his friend join the investigation. Miatrai is a psychic and a fortune teller by trade but is known for solving one of the most complex mysteries in Japan.

Soji Shimada has directly involved his reader and created a game within a book in which the reader is asked to play a role and share the stage with the unconventional and uncanny detective. The Murder in the Crooked House is a who done it mystery with clues, red herrings in the puzzle to help the reader solve the murder mysteries alongside the detectives involved.

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