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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Inugami Curse

Yokomizo Seishi

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To purchase The Inugami Curse

Title: The Inugami Curse
Author: Yokomizo Seishi
Genre: Novel
Written: 1951 (Eng. 2003)
Length: 309 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: The Inugami Curse - US
The Inugami Curse - UK
The Inugami Curse - Canada
La hache, le koto et le chrysanthème - France
L'ascia, il koto e il crisantemo - Italia
El clan Inugami - España
  • Japanese title: 犬神家の一族
  • Originally published in English as The Inugami Clan
  • Translated by Yumiko Yamakazi
  • Director Ichikawa Kon has filmed this twice, as The Inugami Family (1976) and Murder of the Inugami Clan (2006)

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Our Assessment:

B : moves along nicely, but over-elaborate

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times . 20/7/2003 Mark Schreiber
The NY Times Book Rev. . 6/9/2020 Marilyn Stasio
The Spectator A 21/3/2020 Jeff Noon

  From the Reviews:
  • "While Kindaichi fails to prevent the murders, he remains two steps ahead of the police in identifying the killer. Yumiko Yamazaki's lively translation is wonderfully readable" - The Japan Times, The Japan Times

  • "For the sake of fair play, Kindaichi scrupulously defines his methods of detection and shares the logic of his reasoning. But Yokomizo has his fun, and the diabolically twisted plotting is top-notch." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(T)his is Golden Age crime at its best, complete with red herrings, blind alleys and twists and turns galore. (...) A testament to the power of the simple murder mystery and its enduring appeal." - Jeff Noon, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Inugami Curse (originally published in English as The Inugami Clan) features Yokomizo Seishi's popular protagonist, private investigator Kosuke Kindaichi (with Yokomizo mentioning several of Kindaichi's previous cases -- previous books by Yokomizo --, and alluding to the fact the Kindaichi has made something of a reputation for himself as a detective). It is set shortly after the end of the Second World War, the story set in motion by the death of eighty-one-year-old Sahei Inugami, "one of the leading businessmen of the Shinshu region". From the humblest beginnings, he had built a business empire that had also transformed the village of Nasu into a thriving -- if completely dependent on the fortunes of the Inugami Group -- city of more than a hundred thousand.
       Sahei had never married, but he had three daughters, by three different women; they, in turn, had married and each had had a son: Matsuko had Kiyo; Takeko had Také (and a daughter, Sayoko); and Umeko had Tomo. All lived together at the Inugami estate -- along with the stunningly beautiful young Tamayo, the granddaughter of the priest (and apparently one-time lover) of Sahei, who had helped Sahei get a start in life; when Tamayo was orphaned, Sahei had taken her in.
       Several months after Sahei's death, Kindaichi received a letter from a lawyer begging for his help in preventing a tragedy; the lawyer, Toyoichiro Wakabayashi, is worried that the Inugami clan faces: "a grave situation in the near future. By grave situation, I mean events soaked in blood, the sort of events which I believe are your specialty". Sufficiently intrigued, Kindaichi heads for Nasu and checks in at the lakeside Nasu Inn and almost immediately is confronted with dramatic and suspicious goings-on: first he helps save the beautiful Tamayo from her sabotaged boat -- and learns that: "a lot of strange things have been happening recently" that have imperiled her -- only to then find the lawyer who has come to speak to him murdered.
       Kyozo Furudate, the Inugamis' lawyer and the dead lawyer's employer, then pays a visit to Kindaichi, and while he had not been aware that Wakabayashi had contacted the detective, he admits there's good reason to worry about the Inugamis: "It's about Sahei Inugami's will". The will had not yet been officially read -- though someone apparently sneaked a look at it -- as Sahei had specified that its contents not be revealed until Kiyo's return to the family home; a soldier, he had been detained abroad at the end of the war, and while now reportedly back in Tokyo with his mother Matsuko, had not yet traveled back to Nasu. Furudate can't reveal what's in the will, but does admit to Kindaichi that Tamayo figures prominently in it:

The whole will revolves around her. She is in a position of absolute advantage as regards the Inugami inheritance.
       Kiyo finally comes to Nasu so that the will can be opened -- but he shows up wearing a mask, his face so disfigured in the war that he is unrecognizable, and questions about his identity immediately add to the tension. But that's nothing compared to what's in the will. As Furudate foresaw:
It will be like hurling the remaining members of the Inugami clan into a maelstrom of conflict, kin against kin. What an uproar there will be when this is announced
       The will does put Tamayo in the -- uncomfortable -- driver's position, at least for a year (and if she survives ...), and pits the three Inugami grandsons against each other in a rather complicated game that includes a winner-take-all possible outcome. But there's a wildcard, too -- it turns out Sahei didn't just have three daughters: he had an affair with a young employee who bore him a son, Shizuma Aonuma, a mother and son that the three daughters thought they had chased out of their lives for good -- and whose whereabouts are, indeed, unknown.
       When it's all spelled out for Kindaichi he finds: "It was as if blood were oozing from the pages of the will" -- and soon enough blood is oozing elsewhere, as the clan starts to get picked off, one by one. Sahei's three daughters each want to position their sons to take over the business, while Matsuko has now also become extremely -- almost suspiciously ... -- protective of her disfigured son. Tamayo has what amounts to an able bodyguard -- the unfortunately named (or at least called) Monkey -- who: "always guarded Tamayo like a faithful dog would", but her central position in the disposition of the estate also provides a motive for some meddling to put herself in a more advantageous position and there's some reason to suspect that some of the strange things happening to her might, in fact, have been staged.
       Already right after Kindaichi's arrival, Yokomizo points out that events get in the way of an easy resolution of the case, as:
If Tamayo had not been facing a watery death at that moment, and if Kindaichi had not rushed to her rescue, no doubt he would have been able to solve the case much earlier than he did.
       Indeed, events repeatedly conspire against Kindaichi putting the pieces together -- but the pieces are complex, and the puzzle grows more complex as time goes by. And a lot of time goes by -- Kindaichi spends months in Nasu, even though he doesn't actually seem to be in the employ of anyone. But Furudate and the police keep him in the loop and consult him, and he does want to get to the bottom of this unusual case which began so disappointingly (the death of the man who called him to the scene hits him hard: "Kindaichi could not imagine a worse disgrace"). What he does with all his free time remains unclear, however; though present at many of the significant confrontation-scenes, where he often contributes his two cents (or mulls over something he observes), he remains kind of an underdeveloped character, only occasionally really the focus of the story.
       When everything does finally fall into place, Yokomizo correctly notes:
     How remarkable it all was. Everything hinged on coincidence, an accumulation of chance incidents.
       This is also part of the problem with The Inugami Curse and its very elaborate plot: it's almost too neat in how it is tied up, especially in the figures of Shizuma Aonuma and his mother. True, that's also part of the appeal of the novel -- how very neatly all the roles in the mystery come together -- but it is rather too neat in the unlikelihood of how it all comes together.
       The Inugami Curse is, like Sahei's will, willfully (over)complex. Even Yokomizo seems to understand as much, leading him, two-thirds of the way into the novel, to recapitulate in summary form by itemizing: "the important points Kindaichi excerpted from his diary" of the goings-on up to that point -- a four-page, twenty-five-point list, with Yokomizo noting at its conclusion:
     Actually, Kindaichi's notations went into much more detail, but because that would be too tedious for the reader and, in addition, because an itemized list cannot do justice to some issues that will be explained at greater length later on, I have reproduced here only the most important portions.
       The novel then has a reasonably neat resolution, even if some of the twists (specifically surrounding Kiyo) are predictable. Crowded with suspects (and constellations of outcomes, as circumstances change depending on who dies), the novel is a bit pulled in different directions; a stronger narrative-central figure, whether Tamayo or Kindaichi, would have helped pull the story together. Nevertheless, Yokomizo is a good storyteller, and he manages to sustain decent suspense throughout. His technique is sometimes annoying -- but even then, it's generally stylistically strong enough for readers to excuse him, e.g.:
     November 15. A half month since Kiyo's return and almost one month since Kindaichi's arrival in Nasu. The day when Inugami blood first flowed and the day when the devil finally commenced to act. Before turning to the subject of death, however, let us first recount an incident that might have been a prelude to murder.
       Japanese readers could be assumed to be more familiar with the character of Kindaichi (from previous books), explaining why Yokomizo does not foreground him as much -- a bit of a shame here, because the idiosyncratic P.I. is an appealing figure with some amusing quirks; one hopes to see more of him in further translations. As is, The Inugami Curse is a quite gripping mystery, even if not entirely satisfying in its larger set-up; still, it's a good read and leaves one eager to see more of Yokomizo's work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 February 2020

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The Inugami Curse: Reviews: The Inugami Curse - the films: Other books by Yokomizo Seishi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Japanese author Yokomizo Seishi (横溝正史) lived 1902 to 1981.

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