The Tokyo Zodiac

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders
Soji Shimada

The title alone was enough to hook my like a gullible fish.

Shimada has a good reputation as a solid mystery writer in Japanese, but this is the only one of his novels available in English. This translation first appeared in 2004, with a reprint a few years ago, so, while there is still time for his work to catch on and demand for further English translations, well, there are a few reasons that this may never happen.

 First, this work has a very slow start, with an interesting middle, and far too long of an ending. The convoluted nature of the setup is overdone and lost me for a good long period, where I didn’t want to pick up the work again. The idea appears to be that all information needed to solve the crime is given to the reader, allowing them to play detective. However, to muddle and confuse, so much extra information needed to be added, that it works more as a test to join the forensics team than an enjoyable read.

Once we hit a stride the plot gets a bit simpler and much more enjoyable, thought still far too many dead ends and nonsense. Even so, the middle 120 pages of this work show the skill and imagination of a very good storyteller, but alas, that might be lost in the middle, because the ending again just gets too confused and in a way self-congratulatory in trying to say: “Look, see... I told you all the information was there, doesn’t it make sense now, and don’t I seem smarter than you?”

If you can skim the first 80 or so pages, enjoy the search and reveal, then skip the last 80 or so pages too.

So, hard to recommend as a whole, though I'd give his work another shot, maybe starting with a short story to feel out how he grew as a writer.   

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