Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Ghost Murder Case

「死霊」殺人事件 (shirei satsujinjiken, The 'Ghost' Murder Case, 1994) is a detective story by IMAMURA Aya (今邑彩), the third in a series set in a police murder investigation department. I'm a little random in my book buying, and I haven't read the first two in the series, so I don't know if I missed anything by starting here.

At the start, the book looks more like some kind of psychological crime story, with a businessman in difficulties thinking of killing his wife for the insurance. Soon however we come to the real mystery, which has a very different character. The businessman, his wife and his partner are all found dead in the businessman's house. Not only that, the businessman, the last to die, had just arrived by taxi and told the taxi driver to wait because he had to get his wallet from inside the house. The taxi driver had had the only exit in view the whole time from when his passenger entered the house until he followed him in after getting tired of waiting. He finds the victim dead, clutching the telephone. At the other end is the wife's sister, who just heard her brother in law say "the dead body came back to life". The wife's body is lying on the bed upstairs with a terrifying grin of fierce triumph on her face. In another room the tatami mats have been pushed aside and the floorboards opened, as though something had dug its way out; and there is dirt under the wife's fingernails.

This grotesque horror story style locked room mystery then merges into an alibi breaking investigation, as the police decide that the two business partners had been planning to kill the wife and had set up alibis for it, also sending a further accomplice to Hokkaido to make it seem that the wife had disappeared there.

This is all very promising, if a bit odd. The definite mismatch of genres in the two types of story, locked room mystery and police procedural is interesting; and the setup is as outlandish as you could want for the former. The series detective Kijima seems like a typical police procedural detective, here partnered with a younger woman, who is characterised by a lighthearted approach to the investigation, rather than the steely determination to succeed in a man's world that the genre expects.

At the end, after another locked room of sorts and the answer to all the mysteries, my feeling was much the same as with other books I've read by Imamura. It was not bad, in some respects very good; but it felt like there was a better book trying to get out with a little more careful work on the plotting. There was certainly too much reliance on coincidence and improbable behaviour from some of the characters.

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