Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Inugami Clan

As I like to review children's books and detective stories alternately here, the next review should have been a children's book; but I'm almost at the end of my stock of Japanese children's books, so the gaps between posts on those will have to be a little longer for the moment.

I had planned to make my next YOKOMIZO Seishi (横溝正史) review 女王蜂 (Queen Bee); but then I noticed that I still haven't written anything about the book that comes before it in the series, 犬神家の一族 (inugamike no ichizoku, The Inugami Clan, 1951). It's a couple of years since I read it and I don't feel like rereading it just now. So this post doesn't count as a review, just a couple of notes on my impressions when I read it.

When millionaire businessman INUGAMI Sahee (犬神 佐兵衛) died at 81 at his residence in Nasu Lakeside, he leaves a family squabbling over his fortune as they wait for the will to be opened. His three daughters by different mothers have each of them one son. In addition there is a girl, NONOMIYA Tamayo (野々宮 珠世), whose grandfather had been Sahee's patron at the start of his career. Sahee had in return taken her under his protection. KINDAICHI Kousuke is staying by the lake, invited by a letter from a man in the law office handling Sahee's yet unopened will. Before he can learn the details, the man is murdered; and it also looks as if someone is also targeting Tamayo, who has to be rescued from drowning. When the will is read out, we find that Sahee expects Tamayo to marry one of his three grandsons, who will then inherit the company. The various provisions depending on what she and they decide, seem calculated to set the family against each other, almost an invitation to murder. And then there is an uneasy suspicion in the house that one of the grandsons is not who he says he is. The story is set not long after the war and the son of Sahee's eldest daughter has only just got back to Japan. Because of war wounds, his head is covered by a close fitting mask. The other sisters suspect that the real son never returned and that this could be an impostor brought in to give his mother access to the fortune.

The return of soldiers, and their character in the peacetime world, is a theme of almost all the Yokomizo Seishi stories of this period. In particular, the novella 車井戸なぜ軋る (Kurumaido naze kishiru, Why did the well pulley creak?), which likewise features suspicions over the identity of a disfigured returning veteran, clearly laid the groundwork for The Inugami Clan, as I commented when I reviewed it. The other book which makes the most of the return of soldiers, Gokumontou, proves to be similar in another direction as well. In Gokumontou the three daughters of a rich Japanese house are targeted, and the murderer seems to be arranging the victims' bodies for emblematic purposes. The same seems to be happening to the grandsons of the Inugami family, with the deaths arranged to recall the family emblems of axe, chrysanthemum and koto.

I'm pretty much alone on this, I think; but I don't rate The Inugami Clan as one of Yokomizo's best mysteries. At least, there must be four or five books I'd put ahead of it. His usual strengths are all here. Complexity of plotting seems to have come easily to Yokomizo. Most of his books have a very complicated plot, which still makes sense (at least in its own world) and still allow a normally attentive reader to follow the story. The Inugami Clan is as complex as any; and it has a plot well made to set us speculating in various directions as we read (I was fairly strongly tempted by a red herring for the first third of the book). I've seen Yokomizo's narrative style described as pulpy. It's certainly not aiming for sophisticated restraint, but a better comparison would be the nineteenth century sensation novel. As in EDOGAWA Rampo's juvenile mysteries, we have a very present narrator, who asks rhetorical questions, exclaims with horror at the events he describes and does all he can to involve the readers. The local setting is well done. As often in the Kindaichi stories, we are in a relatively unpopulated part of Japan, but this time it is a mountain area trying to adapt to the times with tourism. (Incidentally I've seen a review which think this is set in the Nasu in Tochigi prefecture; but if I've got it right, it's a fictional Nasu in what is now Nagano prefecture.) The world of the Inugami family, all revolving around the dead Sahee, make for an involving story, both before and after the denouement.

My slight reservations are that the story is probably in one sense over-hinted (many of the mysteries had an obvious answer, that I would expect readers to spot) in another under-clued (the actual murderer became more and more obvious from the middle of the book, but there was no compelling reason why it had to be them). The result was that there were parts of the explanation at the end where I thought, 'Well okay, but there was no way we would be able to work any of that out.' 

There is an English translation, which I haven't read, by Yumiko Yamazaki (The Inugami Clan, Stone Bridge Press, 2007). You can read a review of that at the blog Pretty Sinister Books, and of the original book and both ICHIKAWA Kon films (from 1976 and 2006) at Boku no jikenbo.

1 comment:

  1. I just now remembered I have an unread manga version of 車井戸なぜ軋る. Should dig it up.

    I'm not sure whether I'd put Inugamike on the very top of my list, but I definitely don't have at least four~five books that I would rank higher. I think that in a way, most of Yokomizo('s early) books have some parts that they do better than the rest, some parts they don't do as well as others, but Inugamike is one of those where the average is good IMHO. I agree with the hinting, but I find that Yokomizo's hinting is always a bit irregular across his books.

    Jooubachi is one of those novels I like, but definitely not above Inugamike. The Ichikawa Kon film is good too, by the way. Maybe I should write a review of that film too, as it's the only Ichikawa one I haven't discussed yet...

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