"Do not return to the Village of Eight Graves. Nothing good will happen if return. The Deities of the Eight Graves are furious. If you come back to the village, then.... blood! Blood! Blood! The tragedy of 26 years ago will repeat itself and the Village of Eight Graves will turn into a sea of blood", "Village of the Eight Graves"
We all know The Murder on the Orient Express and I think many of us see it as both a representative work in the Hercule Poirot series as well as an archetype for the Golden Age detective. A closed circle setting, high-class suspects, a murder on a train and a surprise ending. I think many people have such an image of the Golden Age detective and paraodies of Poirot, as well as the genre, often take their cues from The Murder on the Orient Express.
Kindaichi Kousuke series that is best known to the general public and also the one that is parodied most often. It has the small mountain village, the secluded community, a bit of local flavor through dialects, a long series of murders, a rich family that people look up to, a local legend, the influence of World War II on the lives of said rich family and usually directly connected to some sort of motive. The quintessential Kindaichi Kousuke novel.
The titular Village of Eight Graves is a small village deep in the mountains of Okayama. In the Sengoku period, a group of eight fallen warriors, who had been defeated in a battle, had fled there, hiding in the village with a small fortune in gold with them. One day the villagers killed the warriors to steal the gold, but the villagers never found the treasure. They did get cursed by the eight warriors though, so the murder was actually not really profitable.
What does the curse do? Well, right after the murder on the warriors, other people in the village started to drop dead, culminating in the death of the instigator of the whole incident. Eight deaths in total. It was because of this that the villagers began to worship the eight warriors to calm their anger and that the village became known as the Village of the Eight Graves. Fast forward to 1922, when Tajimi Youzou, offspring of the instigator of the eight warriors murder, became mad one day and slayed 32 persons in the village (a multitude of eight!). He himself fled to the mountains and was thought dead.
And finally, 1948. A young man called Tatsuya is contacted by a laywer, who says that Tatsuya is the son of Tajimi Youzou and that the Tajimi family, now led by the twin grand-grandmothers Koume and Kotake, hopes that Tatsuya will become the new head of the Tajimi family, as his older brother and sister are physically too weak to go on much longer. Tatsuya's grandfather comes to pick up him from Tokyo, but they haven't even exchanged two words when his grandfather drops dead, poisoned. It is the beginning of a horrible series of murders connected with the curse of the eight warriors.
And I'm stopping here with my summary, even though I'm just at the beginning as it's going to be just too long. Too much stuff happens. Secret hallways, underground mazes, the curse of the eight warriors, the mass murder of Youzou, the hidden gold, friction between the rich Tajimi family and a branch family, the fear of the villagers for Tatsuya as the son of the mass-murderer Youzou and more. Suffice to say that it is no wonder that so many parodies go with this book as it's really brimming with things you can borrow.
As a detective novel, it's somewhat disappointing though. While the atmosphere is really great, the plot is not nearly as ingenious as other entries in the Kindaichi Kousuke series like Inugamike no Ichizoku or Honjin Satsujin Jiken. Most murders can be committed by any person, while the one murder with a proper logical clue doesn't point exclusively to the murderer, it only sorta points in the general direction. The story isn't even fair as Kindaichi already has a reason to suspect the murderer at the beginning of the story and thus has access to information not available to the reader. And funnily enough, Kindaichi is not even really needed in the story. He says it himself at the conclusion, but everything had resolved itself naturally anyway and he hadn't done anything. The conclusion consists of Kindaichi telling that he already knew everything but that he wasn't able to do anything the whole time. Well, that's kinda disappointing.
While Gokumontou ("Prison Gate Island"), released two years earlier, is similar in design with a very remote, isolated rural setting, but from what I know, that book has a lot better clued story. So yeah, I'm disappointed. I really, really love the setting of the story and the atmosphere, but Yokomizo kinda went overboard and little of his originality in tricky plotting like we saw in Honjin Satsujin Jiken is to be found here.
Because everything resolves itself, the book doesn't really feel like a detective.That's maybe why the famous 1977 Yatsu Haka Mura movie is more a horror movie with a detective element, rather than a detective movie. It does seem that this book is open to a lot of interpretations though. In recent years, it seems that some people read Yatsu Haka Mura as a moe novel, with love interest Noriko and Tatsuya's sister Haruyo as the main subjects of adoration. Which is sorta original.
Oh, and obligatory: The massacre by Tajimi Youzou, based on the very real Tsuyama massacre, in all its bloody glory: 1977 movie version / 1978 drama version / 2004 drama version.
Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『八つ墓村』