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!

Review

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.

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