Book review: 『四万人の目撃し』by Yorichika Arima

Quick facts

Title: 『四万人の目撃者』(よんまんにんのもくげきしゃ)
Author: Yorichika Arima (有馬頼義)
Published by Kobunsha

Yorichika Arima has written several detective novels, often described as social detective novels.

『四万人の目撃者』belongs to the prosecutor Takayama series. It won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1959.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – PROJECT – I read this book as part of my project to read all the winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (at least, the books that are available today). Follow my progress here!


This book started with a very strong and intriguing setting: a baseball player falls during a match and dies soon after. 40,000 people witnessed his death which looks like a sudden cardiac arrest. Yet, prosecutor Takayama is not convinced, and even though nothing indicates foul play, he starts investigating.

The story has several different, but equally exciting, starting elements. First, the difficulty to lead an investigation when there is no official case and therefore, no real police support or justification to talk to people and ask questions.

Then obviously, there was the mystery of the ”how”. If there is murder, how was it done, given that 40,000 persons had their eyes on the field the whole time.

And finally, we had to find out who did it. There were different leads (work, family, baseball team) and different motives possible.

Unfortunately, none of these interesting elements turned out to be satisfactory. The investigation led by Takayama was a bit frustrating in my opinion. There are obvious key characters in this case whom he never speaks to because the investigation is not official. I also found the pace very slow, the investigation makes little progress, with limited clues and elements to work with. There are elements to pick up the pace (like the sudden disappearance of a character), but these elements always turn out to be disappointing in the end. In contrast with the general slow pace of the investigation, Takayama sometimes jumps to conclusions or finds a new lead of investigation without real support for it. For example, there is this threat of an incoming second murder that preoccupies Takayama during some parts of the book, but I am not sure I understood on which basis he anticipated a second murder. Maybe I missed it, but the whole thing felt unconvincing to me.

As for the ”how” the murder was done, I found it extremely underwhelming. I thought that maybe, the particularities of the baseball field and where the players were placed at what moment would play a role, but it is not this kind of mystery at all.

And as for ”who” did it, the mystery is even more underwhelming if possible. There is no real mystery or twist or surprising development. The investigation tends towards one obvious character and follows a straight line.

Finally, we follow a baseball player who becomes some sort of main character (apart from the investigation team), and I found these parts quite boring. At first, this character was closely linked to the case, so following him was interesting, but after some time, he becomes more and more disconnected with the case and the parts where he appears became more and more annoying to me. I could not care at all for him and his problems, be it his baseball career or his love relationship.

To conclude, this book is not really a satisfactory detective novel if you judge it from the point of view of the mystery. It is a more social and realistic depiction of the time and environment (here mainly, the baseball team and career aspiration of the players). I liked for example the description of forensic methods of the time, and the limitations it had. Unfortunately, I am not at all interested in baseball. If it can help to solve a murder, I am more than willing to study the rules and particularities of a baseball game, but just talking baseball for the sake of it was not that appealing to me (and the book also did not triggered my interest nor did it make me want to find out more about baseball, on the contrary!).

So if you like baseball, maybe you will enjoy this book more than I did, but I still think that the mystery and detective parts were too underwhelming to really keep a reader engrossed in the novel until the end, even a baseball fan.

Book review: 『顔』by Seicho Matsumoto


Title: 『顔』(かお)
Author: Seicho Matsumoto (松本清張)
Published by Kadokawa
Available on Booklive

Seicho Matsumoto is known for popularising detective fiction, with several of his books translated into English and adapted into films. The short story 顔 won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1957. The collection I read contains 5 short stories: 顔、張込み、声、地方紙を買う女、白い闇. Some of these stories have been translated into English by Adam Kabat and compiled into the collection The Voice and Other Stories.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – PROJECT – I read this book as part of my project to read all the winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (at least, the books that are available today). Follow my progress here!


This collection of short stories is one of the most entertaining collection of mysteries I have read. The prize winner, 顔, was certainly the best story, but all are excellent and if you like one, you will probably like the others too.

Both 顔 and 地方紙を買う女 were similar in structure. We have a protagonist who is clearly hiding something, but we don’t know what it is at first. These two stories are my favourite, because it creates a tension between caring for the protagonist on the one hand and looking for the truth on the other hand. The reader does not know whether they should identify with the protagonist or keep a suspicious eye on them, and this makes for suspenseful and entertaining stories. 顔 in particular has a very good ending, and belongs now to my favourite short stories of crime fiction.

声 has a similar theme than 顔, where recognition (of a person’s voice or face) plays a role in the mystery. The two stories also have a similar structure with two different parts. While 声 did not have the same impact than 顔 it was still very good with an interesting police investigation in it as well.

白い闇 is a mystery about a husband who suddenly disappears. Even though the outcome is predictable, the story was enjoyable.

Finally, 張り込み is certainly my least favourite short story, but it was still very good, though quite depressive at the end.

Overall, the characters are all very complex for characters of short stories. Some are tormented by a dark past, some want to protect their secrets and some want to find out the truth. As for the Japanese level, this book is certainly the easiest I have read so far among the prize winners.

I will definitely check out Matsumoto’s other books!

Book review: 『狐の鶏』by Jokichi Hikage 

Quick facts

Title: 『狐の鶏』(きつねのとり)
Author: Jokichi Hikage (日影丈吉)
Published by Kodansha
216 pages

Jokichi Hikage has written a lot of short stories and novels, including a detective series called ハイカラ右京, but only a couple of titles have been translated into English.

The short story 狐の鶏 won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1956. The book I am reviewing contain five short stories: 狐の鶏、ねずみ、犬の生活、王とのつきあい、東天紅.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – PROJECT – I read this book as part of my project to read all the winners of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (at least, the books that are available today). Follow my progress here!


The first short story, the prize winner 狐の鶏, was certainly the most impactful to me, and the one that stands out from the collection. The story follows Shinji, the second son, who came back from the war only to take his elder brother’s place, who did not return. It took me a while to understand the characters’ relationship with each other because the story contains what is called levirate marriage (when a man, whose brother has died, is forced to marry his brother’s widow – and in the story, also to adopt his child). I was quite shocked to read this kind of arrangement practised in post-war Japan.

The story is a mystery and falls in the category of what we would call today a psychological thriller. I read it for the mystery, but it is the setting, the characters and the helplessness of Shinji’s situation that I found really interesting and gripping.

The second story is set during the war, in Taipei, and was also quite a heavy read with a very shocking and terrible end.

After reading these two stories, I felt like I needed a break from this book, and came back after reading lighter and more joyful things. However, the other short stories were less dark. 犬の生活 felt more like a classic police investigation, and 王とのつきあい was more a horror story. I really loved this one, it is suspenseful and delightedly horrific, with another impactful end.

I found the stories that are set in the countryside, 狐の鶏 and 東天紅 to be the most difficult to read in Japanese. I guess it comes from the vocabulary and the dialogues that are more challenging to me because of the dialect. The other ones were good for my level.

Overall, I was not expecting such a heavy read for a mystery book. My favourite stories are 狐の鶏 and 王とのつきあい, but I don’t thing that I will jump into another book by this author just yet.

February wrap-up

I read 7 books in February, and I don’t know if I have ever read that many books in a month before! I must say that two Japanese books, 狐の鶏 and 顔・白い闇 and the Korean book 초급 한국어 were all very short (around 200 pages). I also had already started 七つの会議 in January, and I read one book in my native language.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project

Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).

1956:『狐の鶏』by Jokichi Hikage (日影丈吉)

This is a collection of short stories and the first one, 狐の鶏, won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for short fiction. I liked all the stories of the book, but 狐の鶏 is certainly the most impactful one (it was also the most difficult to read!).

Overall, most of the stories were a bit depressive. 狐の鶏 is set just after the war, and ねずみ, which has a terribly sad ending, follows a Japanese squad deployed in Taipei during the war.

Compared to the other award winners I have read so far, this book belongs to the most difficult in terms of language level. The stories set in the countryside like 狐の鶏 and 東天紅 were the most difficult.

1957: 顔・白い闇 by Seicho Matsumoto (松本清張)

Compared to 『狐の鶏』, this collection of short stories by Seicho Matsumoto was much lighter and entertaining. No wonder that Matsumoto is known for popularising detective fiction. All the stories of this collection are engrossing and easy to read.

Again, I found that the short story that won the prize, 顔, was the best one of the collection, but by a short margin. The stories are a good mix of suspense, psychological tension, and investigation with complex and tortured characters at the heart of the mysteries.

So far, the two authors of the project that I plan on reading more are Seishi Yokomizo and Seicho Matsumoto.


Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.

A book under 200 pages: 초급 한국어 by 문지혁

The more I think of this book, the more inclined I am to lower my rating. On the one hand, I think that it is a great book for language learners because it is easy to read, it is short, and it contains a lot of relatable and funny anecdotes about language learning.

On the other hand, there are numerous things that I disliked in it as well. I found it very self-centered, and I could not help but finding the author a little too full of himself, which was irritating. In the end, the story felt a bit desultory, like a juxtaposition of autobiographical essays, rather than a whole, coherent novel.

I am certainly being too picky, as this book receives excellent reviews overall. It’s worth giving it a try I think, especially if you are looking for an easy book to read in Korean.

20th Century reading challenge

Read a book set in each decade of the 20th Century in chronological order (publication date does not matter).

1910s (WWI): Le Feu, journal d’une escouade by Henri Barbusse | Im Westen nichts Neues by Erich Maria Remarque

For my challenge of February, I wanted to read a book that describes the life in the trenches during WWI and chose to read a French and a German book.

While they both describe similar things, the two books differ in structure. Im Westen nichts Neues is a well constructed novel, and it is centered on a protagonist, Paul, whereas Le Feu has more a journalistic flavour, the narrator describing what he sees and reporting discussions of his fellow soldiers, but without real plot in it.

I personally preferred Le Feu, which is my favourite read of the month, because I learnt so much through it. I liked to read about details such as how soldiers protected themselves from the cold, what they carried in their pockets, and more generally, I learnt a lot through descriptions about the constant struggle of life in the trenches, not because of the fightings, but because of the rain, the cold, and the continuous, crushing fatigue. Barbusse describes the war as an ”endless monotony of miseries”, and the whole novel shows it plainly in a very realistic manner.

But while the soldiers in Le Feu can sometimes dream of going back to their lives when war is over, Paul and his camarades cannot. They are 19 years old when their professor persuade them to enrol. War is their first experience in life, and the novel points out the effects it has on Paul’s generation who is ”lost like children and experienced like old people”.

Paul talks about the danger of putting his war experience into words, while the soldiers in Le Feu are afraid to eventually forget, because, as they say, if no one were to forget the horrors of war, surely, there would be no war anymore. And so, Remarque and Barbusse have put war into words, and their testimony seems today more important than ever.

Im Westen nichts Neues was very difficult to read for me, my German level is not that high and war-related words were quite a challenge. Being native French, I had no problem reading Le Feu, but I can see that it is a very difficult book in terms of language. The soldiers speak a language specific to the trenches, a mix of dialect and military jargon, and I imagine that the dialogues must be extremely challenging to read for French learners.

Other books

『七つの会議』by Jun Ikeido (池井戸潤)

This is the third book by Jun Ikeido that I read, and while I devoured the other two, it took me more than a month to read this one. It is very good, but I liked it less than 『アキラとあきら』and 『空飛ぶタイヤ』. I found that it lacks this sense of fighting for justice that I loved so much in the other two, and it was harder to identify with one character as we follow a different character per chapter. As a result, I found the story less engrossing, and it took me longer to read.

Compared to the other two books, this one felt easier in terms of language. It is certainly because there is nothing related to bank and loans in this novel, which is always the most difficult part to read for me in Jun Ikeido’s books.

『獣の奏者I 闘蛇編』by Nahoko Uehashi (上橋菜穂子)

This is the first book in the Beast Player series. I rarely read fantasy, but with the depressive stories of 『狐の鶏』and the two books on WWI that I read this month, I wanted to also have something different and comforting that I could switch to when needed.

The beginning of the book is extremely addictive, and even though I found that the book had some strange pace irregularities (some long, uneventful episodes, and some compact ones that introduce new characters, tons of information or decisive events), I loved reading it, and I will certainly continue the series, though I don’t know if I will jump into the next one right away.

The book is relatively easy to read (apart from one passage that described at length the history and political tensions between the two territories), and instead of making a character list, I just referred to the anime site whenever I needed to check a name. It was quite useful!

The illustration is my attempt at drawing a Royal Beast (王獣) 😅