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Here is what I posted this past week:
- Wednesday: August wrap-up
- Thursday: The top 7 books to read in September
- Friday: 20 Books of Summer wrap
- Saturday: 6 degrees of separation: from a nuclear power plant to bird migration
Here are the two books I finished this past week:
JUST READ/LISTENED TO 🎧
📚 The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (Kiyoshi Mitarai #1), by Soji Shimada
Published in 1981
Translated in English by Shika MacKenzie and Ross MacKenzie
I had the ambition of reading 12 books for the Japanese Literature challenge (January-March 2022), but only managed 8, so I have been working on finishing my list. Here is one of them, my first by Shimada.
The plot sounds strange and gruesome: who murdered the artist Umezawa (a special kind of artist!), and then chopped up the bodies of six others to create Azoth, the supreme woman?
But actually, the focus and details are not so much on gruesomeness, but on solving this case that happened forty years ago in Japan and was never solved by the police. Astrologer, fortuneteller, and self-styled detective Kiyoshi Mitarai and his friend and sidekick Kazumi Ishioka are determined to figure it all out.
There are lots of details related to pseudo-alchemy, to astrology, like positions of planets, with elements and minerals associated with them, and positions in Japan having to do with meridians (it is very technical in some parts), and lists and drawings are provided by the author.
I liked the structure of the book, starting with Umezawa’s will and testament, detailing his plan to create the perfect woman Azoth from the body parts of six women (his own daughters and nieces). And the book ends with an important letter.
The problem is, it seemed Umezawa was found dead before the six girls were killed. Was he? If yes, who then would have killed the women and for what reason? And was Azoth created? If yes, where is she?
The relationships between Mitarai and his friend were fun!
I liked the references to French painter Gustave Moreau. and fictional artists!
And references to Japanese history: shamaness/Queen Himiko (c. 170–248 AD); the February 26 incident (1936); Nijo Castle (built in 1679); the Heian-jingu Shrine (established in 1895), among others.
There are hilarious comments on Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and Maigret!
This is the type of super clever plot I so enjoy in Japanese mysteries. I’ll soon be reading volume 2 in this series (Murder in the Crooked House).
Shimada makes references to other Japanese masters of detective stories, such as Seicho Matsumoto and Akimitsu Takagi, and I already have some of their novels on my TBR, so I definitely need to get to these as well.
🎧 Epitaph for a Spy, by Eric Ambler
Published in 1938
Narrated by Alexander Spencer
I enjoy more and more discovering classic authors of mysteries.
After my first meeting with Cornell Woolrich this summer, this was my first book by Eric Ambler.
Josef Vadassy goes to the French Riviera on holiday. Photography is his hobby. One day, he goes to the chemist to have his pictures developed. The chemist gets suspicious when he sees the pictures, and sends the police to interrogate Vadassy.
To say the least, this is not going to be a relaxing vacation from that point on.
The story is set just before World War II, and who can know for sure who Vadassy is, or for that matter the other guests at his hotel?
This was another smart plot, with very fun interactions between the hotel guests. The stereotypes on people coming from various countries are hilarious, as well as Vadassy’s awkward and stupid moves sometimes.
The narrator Alexander Spencer was fabulous in his rendering of Vadassy (first person narrative), and I’m really looking forward to reading more by Ambler.
Which one would you recommend next?
Also, I have read that three movies were made on that novel. Have you watched them?
CURRENTLY READING/LISTENING TO
📚 Eventide, by Kent Haruf
Published in 2004
After reading Plainsong back in 2013, I am finally in book two of the series.
it’s really great to be back in the company of the McPheron brothers, young Victoria, and the other folks in Holt, Colorado.
It’s neat to have a completely different change of pace (from the mysteries I’m reading).
This is slow narrative, focusing on nature, on slow (I insist) and very simple life in this tiny place, with down to earth people. But things do happen, and then you can take time to observe folks, their reactions and relationships.
Haruf is so so good at describing characters, and even though I’m not listening to this book, I feel like I’m hearing them talk, with their special accents.
📚 Malice (Kyoichiro Kaga #4), by Keigo Higashino
Published in 1996
Translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith (2014)
Reading for the Virtual Crime Book Club
Yes, I’m reading more Japanese mysteries!
I have read others in this series by Higashino, but not this one.
I like Kaga, a kind of Japanese Columbo. In this novel, he is facing a puzzling situation: novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found murdered at home, on the night before his departure for Vancouver. But his body is found in a locked room, within his locked house, by his wife and his best friend, both of whom have rock solid alibis.
I’m a quarter done and really enjoying it. I’m also looking forward to our online book club discussion on September 12.
Click on the link above to join!
📚 Autour de la Lune, by Jules Verne
Published in 1865
Reading it in French with another of my students
It counts for The Classics Club
I read From the Earth to the Moon with a student last month, so we decided to read the sequel, translated in English as Round the Moon, or All Around the Moon.
I won’t tell much about the plot, that would be spoilers about book 1, in case you never read it. Let’s just it’s about the adventures of the three explorers sent to the Moon in book 1.
Just as funny, less technical so far (I’m a quarter done).
🎧 The Sword in the Stone (The Once and Future King #1), by T. H. White
Children’s Historical fiction
Published in 1938
It counts for The Classics Club
I had never read anything by T. H. White, but was impressed by all the references to his book The Goshawk in H is For Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. So when I read her book in 2015, I decided to explore more T. H. White, with this famous series of 5 books.
I’m so so enjoying this, and the excellent narrator Neville Jason certainly helps. He’s spectacular in his rendering of the various characters, from Merlin, to the witch, to King Pellinore, to the kids.
The book is really hilarious, with its special cast of characters and situations they are thrown in, though ultimately the focus seems to be on the ultimate and most serious quest: learning.
I’ll probably end up listening to the five books in a row.
BOOK UP NEXT
📚 Murder in the Crooked House (Kiyoshi Mitarai #2), by Soji Shimada
Published in 1982
Translated by Louise Heal Kawai (2019)
This is the sequel to The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, presented here above.
“The Crooked House sits on a snowbound cliff at the remote northern tip of Japan. A curious place to build a house, but even more curious is the house itself – a maze of sloping floors and strange staircases, full of bloodcurdling masks and uncanny dolls. When a guest is found murdered in seemingly impossible circumstances, the police are called. But they are unable to solve the puzzle, and more bizarre deaths follow.
Enter Kiyoshi Mitarai, the renowned sleuth. Surely if anyone can crack these cryptic murders it is him. But you have all the clues too – can you solve the mystery of the murders in The Crooked House first?”
LAST BOOK ADDED TO MY GOODREADS TBR
The Wench is Dead (Inspector Morse #8), by Colin Dexter
Published in 1989
I have watched and enjoy several episodes with Inspector Morse, but have yet to try the books. And I usually don’t like starting a series other than with book 1.
BUT I recently said how much I enjoyed The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey, and was asking around if you knew similar books: a modern detective investigating on a historical person.
The French student I’m currently reading Jules Verne with knows a lot about mysteries as well, and she highly recommended this one.
Have you read it?
“Inspector Morse, recovering from an ulcer in Oxford’s Radcliffe Hospital, comes across an old book recounting a sensational murder case that took place in Oxford 100 years earlier. Convinced that the two men hanged for the crime were innocent, Morse sets out from the confines of his bed to prove it.”
📚 NO BOOK RECEIVED THIS PAST WEEK 📚