The Inugami Curse (1951): Seishi Yokomizo

★★★½

Kosuke Kindaichi: Book 2

I really enjoyed my introduction to Kosuke Kindaichi in The Honjin Murders, and was keen to read more of his adventures. Enter The Inugami Curse, the second novel in the series to be translated by Pushkin Vertigo, which like the earlier book blends a highly readable mystery with insights into traditional Japanese culture. As the novel opens, Kindaichi arrives in the lakeside town of Nasu, north of Tokyo, after receiving a worrying letter from the lawyer Wakabayashi. The powerful businessman Sahei Inugami has recently died, sending shockwaves through the local community, for whom he was a figurehead. Everyone is breathlessly waiting for his will to be read, to reveal how his fortune will be divided. Each of Sahei’s three daughters waits, hawk-like, with their husbands and children in tow. But Wakabayashi has seen the will and knows it will have the power to rip the family apart in blood and fury. Kindaichi initially believes Wakabayashi’s predictions to be overblown, but when the lawyer is poisoned moments before their meeting, he realises someone in the Inugami clan will stop at nothing to secure Sahei’s fortune. And this, alas, is only the first of the murders…

Sahei Inugami’s will cannot be read until all members of the family are present, so the clan have been impatiently awaiting the return (from the war) of Kiyo, son of Sahei’s eldest daughter Matsuko. But, when this promising young man finally arrives, the family are horrified. Kindaichi sees the reason with his own eyes at the reading of the will: a horrifying war wound has destroyed the centre of the young man’s face and he now wears a sinister rubber mask. And there are further shocks to come, this time courtesy of the will itself. For Sahei Inugami has left his fortune, not to his family, but to the mild-mannered Tamayo, granddaughter of his great benefactor, who has grown up within the household – sidelined and distrusted by the other members of the family. Now that distrust transforms into hatred, for Sahei’s grandsons Kiyo, Také and Tomo can only receive a share of his wealth if they win Tamayo’s favour and her hand in marriage. To make matters worse, if Tamayo should die then everything will go to the mysterious Shizuma Aonuma, Sahei’s illegitimate son. The Inugami were never the most tightly-knit family, but now their ambition and ire has been channelled in a new direction – and one that proves murderous, as Sahei’s grandsons start to suffer horrifying accidents…

Yokomizo has a vivid and frequently ghoulish imagination, and you do wonder why a murderer would go to the lengths shown here – lengths which are highly-coloured and dramatic, but rarely any more effective than a simple bop over the head with a hammer in a dark corner. Yet the colour makes the story more engaging and more shocking, every detail adding new complexity to the case and challenging Kindaichi’s brilliance to its utmost. Sharp-eyed readers will spot clues that help to unravel at least part of the mystery, but the whole truth is carefully concealed until the final curtain. Along the way, we find ourselves witnessing the impact of a manipulative old man upon his divided and lethally competitive family. Was Sahei Inguami simply seeking to cause mischief after his death, and to prolong the cold contempt in which he famously held his daughters? Or is there more to his bizarre stipulation? Perhaps, finally, a chance to put things right?

These books are so much livelier than most of the Japanese fiction I’ve read, aided here by a dynamic translation by Yumiko Yamazaki. If you’ve been enjoying the British Library Crime Classics series, which resurrects forgotten Golden Age classics, I can’t recommend these contemporary Japanese stories enough. You’ll find yourself drawn into a tale that’s more macabre, theatrical and intricate than most Western equivalents (though I make an exception for the author of Castle Skull), and there’s lots of social historical context to add colour. Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed that Pushkin Vertigo and their translators are already working on the next books in the series, which I’ve sure will be every bit as diverting as the two so far.

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I received this book from the publisher via Netgalley in return for a fair and honest review

6 thoughts on “The Inugami Curse (1951): Seishi Yokomizo

  1. louise says:

    Hi there, I’m really glad you enjoyed Yumiko Yamazaki’s wonderful translation of The Inugami Curse. However, she was not the translator of The Honjin Murders. That was translated by me, Louise Heal Kawai.

    • The Idle Woman says:

      Hello Louise – yes, I know, and you’ll see that you are credited (and always have been!) in the very first paragraph of the Honjin Murders post. I agree that my phrasing here in the Inugami post wasn’t entirely clear so have updated it. Thanks for pointing out that confusion could arise.

      • louise says:

        I see. I came directly to this post without seeing the one on The Honjin Murders so didn’t see any credit. As you say, the final paragraph of this originally read as if Yamazaki had translated both books, but you have fixed that perfectly. Thank you so much. I’m so glad you enjoyed the books.

  2. Antonia Colias ("Toni", as the name she knew me by) says:

    This is a “side-related” post. Can anyone help me with contact information for Mrs. Yumiko Yamazaki? We were friends in Houston throughout high school and beyond; however, I have lost touch with her. I very much would like to get back in communication with her! If there is a publisher’s address to which I should write, perhaps that could be posted here. I would prefer not to place my name or e-mail address for strangers to read here online. (although I understand that my e-mail will be required in order to post this message — and I grant permission to share it with Mrs. Yamazaki) Thank you!

  3. SK says:

    Caution: this post contains spoilers. I also read The Inugami Curse in translation, I fear without sufficient background in Japanese cultural practices. There is much talk of Inugami’s will as causing problems, but not at all the reaction I would expect to the discovery that a man wrote a will that pressures his unacknowledged granddaughter to chose one of his grandsons (from three different liaisons) as a marriage partner. The Idle Woman’s review, like the novel itself, hints that Inugami’s will is an effort “to put things right,” which confuses me greatly. Couldn’t funds have been provided to the granddaughter, ideally during the man’s lifetime, rather than arranging for sexual relations between unwitting blood relatives? Please, can anyone explain Japanese consanguinity and marriage expectations so as to render me able to understand this novel? Although Inugami’s son is willing to cover up murders and defraud through impersonation, he would rather give up a fortune than marry his father’s granddaughter due to their familial relation, which everyone in the novel finds entirely understandable, including his murderer… yet the book ends with the granddaughter, now aware of her grandfather’s identity, proposing marriage to one of the grandsons, to the apparent approval of all. Help, please?

    • The Idle Woman says:

      Thanks so much for your comment! Unfortunately, it has been quite some time since I read this, and so I can’t remember the details (like you, I hope someone more knowledgeable will be able to step in and help us out) 🙂

      But what I would say is this – and I don’t know which country you’re based in, so I may have come to the wrong conclusion about consanguinity laws where you are. In Japan (as in the UK), marriage between first cousins isn’t illegal – or at least, that’s what a quick internet search suggests. It’s uncommon nowadays but it doesn’t have quite the same taboo quality as it does, I think, in the USA. If you married your cousin here in the UK, people would think it was weird, and there’d be some jokes about Norfolk (our equivalent of Alabama), but it isn’t completely unheard of – especially if you go back a couple of generations. And it’s the same in Japan (on Googling this question, I see that the Japanese Prime Minister is actually married to his cousin).

      Back at the time Yokomizo was writing, it would presumably have been more common to marry your first cousin, and I can imagine that in a situation like this, where a family needed to be bound together, it might have been quite a useful solution.

      As it’s been so long since I read this, I don’t remember exactly why Inugami’s son doesn’t want to marry his cousin. Is it to do with the closeness of their blood relation, or is there some other reason – does he consider that it’s unfair to force her into a marriage in this way, for example, rather than objecting on account of their genetic closeness?

      I’m fully aware this won’t answer your questions, but from your comment I got the impression that you were confused by the approval of first-cousin marriage. So I just thought I’d point out that not all cultures see (or saw) this as a taboo practice. On the contrary, it was sometimes encouraged in the past in order to protect legacies and so forth.

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