"The inspector suddenly stopped his steps and rose his right hand lightly. He started with "Ah, one more thing please" and I became worried whether inspector Soshigaya wasn't about to give me a story about his wife. There are probably many police inspectors who pretend to be Columbo"
If you'd be visiting this blog for the first time, you'd almost think I only discuss translated novels! You might also be tempted to think that I am a very active blogger, while in reality I wrote most posts of this week in one day. Heh.
Uchida Yasuo is best known for his travel mystery series starrring Asami Mitsuhiko, an investigative freelance writer for a travel magazine. He travels across Japan writing articles on local legends and history of popular tourist spots, but he always ends up caught in some kind of murder case. The Asami Mitsuhiko stories are thus a strange mix between travel guide, history books and detective novels and quite interesting if you are into that. The detective plots are usually not very complex, but entertaining enough.
Uchida's The Togakushi Legend Murders (Original title: Togakushi Densetsu Satsujin Jiken) is not part of the Asami Mitsuhiko series however, but of the Inspector Takemura Iwao series. Takemura is known as the 'Columbo of Shinano' (because he keeps wearing the same coat) and considered the sharpest inspector of the Nagano Prefectural police. This time, he is placed in charge of the investigation of a murder commited in the town of Togakushi. The victim was the influential businessman Takeda, who was found poisoned in an area commonly known as the poison plains. Togakushi apparently was the setting of the legend of Taira no Koremochi slaying the demoness Momiji, who was planning to poison him. What bothers Takemura is the fact the murderer bothered to poison Takeda and drag the body all the way to the poison plains. Has someone taken up the role of the murdering demoness Momiji herself?
Having read several translations in a row now, it became clear quite quickly how odd this translation feels. It just doesn't feel right. It is a bit stilted and several editorial / translator's choices to render the Japanese and cultural references felt very unnatural. I do admit that part of the problem lies with Uchida's own writing style, which has a tendency to turn out very dry and pragmatic. It does fit the police procedural format of this story, but on the other hand, it does make the fact that someone is mimicking murders according to the Momiji legend a little less scary. The Asami Mitsuhiko novels actually feel quite different, with a distinct lighthearted, humorous tone to them (especially when low-ranking policemen who suspect Mitsuhiko of murder find out who his brother is). The Asami Mitsuhiko novels also seem more to be more focused on legends, providing more background information. For this release, I find it a bit disappointing no maps were provided. While probably not included in the original Japanese release, maps and a bit more background information (in footnotes?) would also have been welcome to convey the feeling of the area.
The mystery itself is not very exciting and it is almost like the investigation of the police (Takemura) was not even needed for this story. There are few suspects and the story develops at the murderer's pace until Uchida thinks it is time for the novel to end. And he does it with a rather forceful conclusion. It is not really satisfactory. Which is not to say that this is a bad novel, it just has some moments that make you think that it will be better, only to reveal that it is really nothing more than an average mystery. Which, in a way, is even more disappointing.
Which is pretty much all I have on this book. It is really just a 'meh' book and you are not missing out on anything if you choose to ignore it, but it is not a bad way to kill some time either.
Oh, and I have to admit that I find the Hannya mask on the cover truly horrifying and I always make sure it doesn't face me when I return it to the
Original Japanese title(s): 内田康夫『 戸隠伝説殺人事件』