The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada is one of the best-selling mystery novels in Japan. Upon reading, it’s clear why. The story begins with the death of a reclusive artist, and the discovery of rambling note written in his own hand. The note details his plans to gruesomely murder his own daughters and nieces, as part of a “noble” experiment to create the perfect woman, Azoth, with dismembered body parts from each girl.
Soon after his supposed death, the murders occur just as written. The sensational and seemingly impossible crimes shock the world, and remain unsolved for over 40 years. In modern day, the eccentric fortune teller Kiyoshi Mitarai races to solve the case, all for his own personal reasons.
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders was clearly a strong influence on Ryukishi07’s Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Many of the plot points will feel familiar: An eccentric old man sacrifices his progeny to a gruesome ritual, all for the sake of his perfect woman. The mystery shocks the world, inspiring a whole subculture of occult and conspiracy theories. Without spoiling anything, though, it’s probably the mystery’s conclusion that comes closest to the heart of Umineko.
Despite it’s macabre tone, the book is rather easy in one way: it’s a classic “fair play” mystery. Near the book’s end, the author even inserts a note to let the reader know when all clues need to solve the mystery are present. Although it isn’t the hardest mystery novel out there, it definitely has some beautifully clever twists.
The book might disappoint those expecting an atmospheric thrill ride, like Agatha Christie’s And then There Were None. The crime’s distance of time can make it feel more like an intellectual puzzle than a suspenseful narrative. Still, the characters are well developed, and the atmosphere is perfectly set thanks to some beautiful (and occasionally creepy) passages. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is strongly recommended to anyone interested in the influences that went into Umineko. Or, anyone just looking for a cracking good classic mystery novel!