Monday, June 6, 2011



"It was such a strange case, so its origin was complex, hidden somewhere deep and faraway. Hate, greed, infidelity, superstition and jealousy, even though all these dark elements were intertwined and entangled with each other teniciously, somehow balance was preserved, until it could go on no longer and it exploded as this never-seen horrible murder case.", "It Walks By Night"

Another Yokomizo Seishi?Actually, with my current backlog, even if I would read a Yokomizo novel every two days, I could still go on for several weeks...

Yokomizo Seishi's Yoru Aruku ("It Walks in the Night")  has an awfully familiar title, but I don't think it was something to do with John Dickson Carr's novel. Have to admit I haven't read it though and Wikipedia doesn't really help (yes, a summary shouldn't be too hard to find, but I'm somewhat lazy), but I'm just going to assume the story is totally different. Yoru Aruku is not one of those high-profile novels by Yokomizo Seishi like Yatsu Haka Mura, Honjin Satsujin Jiken or Inugamike no Ichizoku, but not as obscure as his short stories. It does feature his series detective Kindaichi Kousuke, even though in somewhat small role. It links in with Yatsu Haka Mura, as Kindaichi Kousuke solves the case of Yatsu Haka Mura on his way back from solving this case. And it's mostly set in the Okuyama prefecture (and indeed part of the "Okuyama Prefecture Period" of Kindaichi Kousuke, the first couple of novels).

Yoru Aruku's story is a peculiar one. Here we have the Furugami family, an old rich family. The Sengoku family has been serving the Furugami family since the Edo period and even now, in the post-war period, they act as financial managers for the Furugami family. The Furugami family consists of Shuei, his stepmother and his stepsister Yachiyo. The Sengoku family consists of father and son Naoki. This house of freaks is just waiting for an incident though, with Shuei, a hunchback, in love with his stepsister Yachiyo, Sengoku Naoki also in love with Yachiyo, old man Sengoku having an open affair with the Furugami widow and also in the habit of swinging old swords when drunk and Yachiyo being an almost conciousless beauty. Oh, and Yachiyo has the habit of sleepwalking (thus the title). Things go wrong when Yachiyo announces she wishes to marry the artist Hachiya, who also happens to be a hunchback.

Naoki calls his friend Yashiro, a detective novel writer, over to the mansion, because he feels something is going to happen. Which does. A decapitated hunchback is found in the annex one night, but who is it? Both Shuei and Hachiya have disappeared, so which of the two is the victim? And how could the murder have been commited in the first place, because the murder weapon, a Muramasa, was kept in a double locked safe (key and combination lock), with Yashiro and Naoki present in the room the whole night! It's just the beginning of it all though, as heads are found and more people are decapitated. Add in some sleepwalking. And finally, great detective Kindaichi Kousuke appears...

Maybe the reason this novel isn't that well known among the Kindaichi Kousuke canon is because it's not completely fair. Just a guess. I wouldn't say it's completely unsolvable, but it keeps hovering above the border of fair and unfair and I totally understand why people wouldn't be satisfied by this book. Especially as this novel was preceded by perfectly fair-play masterpieces. Disappointment is to be expected then.

But like I said, it's not completely unfair and a great deal is indeed perfectly solvable. The atmosphere is top-notch, again, with hunchbacks, decapitated bodies, sleepwalking and cursed swords and stuff; it's almost like an Edogawa Rampo novel with its grotesqueness. The use of writer Yashiro as the narrator is also very similar to Edogawa's writing style, who often used a first-person narration in his books, also by writer characters. Seriously, we're only missing a killer-midget or transvestites (or killer midget-transvestites) here. Heck, my edition (which somehow seems to be published somewhere in the 70's and actually sold for only 300 yen at the time) even has cover art that reminds more of Edogawa's writings, rather than Yokomizo's writings.

Yokomizo used the first-person narrator again with Yatsu Haka Mura, and both these novels feel very different from other Kindaichi Kousuke novels, as you usually follow Kindaichi Kousuke from a third-person perspective. In both these books, Kindaichi only makes short appearences until the denouement and it somehow feels like it's not enough. Kindaichi is not someone like Kaga Kyouichirou or Furuhata who only appears at intervals, he should be in the center of everything! Yokomizo did return to the third-person narrative with the next novel, Inugamike no Ichizoku, which is a much more satisfying book than Yoru Aruku anyway. But Yoru Aruku has its merits and I understand why it's usually seen as one of the B-rank Kindaichi Kousuke novels.   

Original Japanese title(s): 横溝正史 『夜歩く』

1 comment :

  1. Well, the plots of both books share a superficial resemblance, impossible decapitations of men who were just / about to be married, and the hunchback could be a nod to The Lost Gallows - another story featuring the Mephistophelean Henri Bencolin.

    You can read a summary of It Walks by Night here.