Book review: 『細い赤い糸』by Takashi Asuka

Cover of the book 細い赤い糸. The cover is black with the drawing of a woman (head only) looking to the left. There is also the drawing of what I identify as the lower body of a woman (we only see the legs and the skirt). The composition is quite strange with the head on the left, and the lower body sort of hanging from the top border of the cover.

Title: 細い赤い糸 (ほそいあかいいと)
Author: Takashi Asuka (飛鳥高)
Published by Kodansha bunko

細い赤い糸 won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1962.


When I read a mystery, I always jump into the story without reading the synopsis and without having any knowledge of the plot. I do this because I had some bad experiences with summaries on the back cover revealing too much, sometimes mentioning events that would only take place halfway through the book. I also like reading without knowing where the story would take me.

With this novel however, I wish I had read about the story before starting it. I was really close to giving it up halfway through, because I could not see where the story was going and the experience was a bit frustrating.

If you don’t want to know anything about the story of this book before reading it, you should stop reading this review now. However, I do think that this book is more enjoyable if you know where you are going.

This book opens with a story of corruption in a company. To be honest, I really had a hard time getting into the first chapter, we don’t know much about the corruption thing, and the novel just does not tell us enough about it to make us care. Same for the characters, I did not really care about them, and their actions seemed unconvincing because we don’t know them at all. I did not like the first chapter, but I was willing to wait and see.

Then the second chapter starts with completely different characters who have nothing to do with the first story. It felt frustrating because I was doing my best to find some interest in the first story, and we suddenly leave them here and switch to another story which I found equally difficult to get into. At this point, I was really tempted to give up the book, but the end of the second chapter finally reveals what it is all about: a serial killing.

This is the main point of the book. We get through four different stories and see four different characters who are all going to be a victim. The focus of the book is to know why they are killed and what could possibly link them together. I do think that if you know that before starting the novel, things becomes much more interesting as you can start looking for clues right from the beginning. It also makes sense, in a way, that each story seems rushed through, because the main topic lies elsewhere.

When I understood where the book was leading me, I started enjoying it much more. However, I also do think that, while the idea is excellent, the execution could have been better done. First, I find the book too short for its purpose. I would have been better if each story was a little bit more developed so that they would be interesting for themselves and not just as a part of a higher scheme. I also find that something should hold all these stories together. At the end of each chapter, we see the police investigating and eventually understanding that they are dealing with a serial killer, but these parts are very short, and you start seeing a pattern only at the end of the second chapter (at this point, we are more than 40% into the book).

Finally, the book just does not give enough clues. It is not impossible for the reader to work the solution for themselves, but you can only do that after a certain point, when some key elements are finally given. It would have been so much better if more clues had been laid all along, so that reading each story would have been more compelling. I could even see myself re-reading one of the first chapters to look for connections, but I felt that you cannot really see the link before the novel gives you some key information.

In the end, the solution turned out to be quite good, and I loved the last 25% of the book, when we are done with the different stories and follow the police investigation. I found this part very engrossing and I liked the solution as well. I just found that it was a bit unfair to the reader, as the story does not disclose some key elements until the end and some connections are difficult to make without them.

Book review: 『人喰い』by Saho Sasazawa

The cover of 人喰い. The cover is very simple: on a completely black background, two thick horizontal blue lines and the name of the author and the title of the book written in red on the black background. No illustration.

Quick facts

Title: 『人喰い』(ひとぐい)
Author: Saho Sasazawa (笹沢佐保)
Digital edition published by P+D Books

『人喰い』won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1961. After winning the prize, Saho Sasazawa resigned from his post at the Postal Ministry to become a full-time writer.


『人喰い』is a short novel with a simple plot and a small number of characters. We follow Sakiko, whose elder sister has disappeared, leaving a suicide note. The story is very straightforward, the narration rarely switches focus and the investigation mostly relies on deduction more than clues or interrogation of witnesses.

I really enjoyed this book, especially because the last winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award I read was going in too many directions in my opinion: there were a lot of different topics, different leads and motives, no consistency in the characters we followed. As a result, I appreciated the simpler line of this one, even though one could also argue that it has too few characters, which makes the outcome a bit foreseeable.

Sakiko’s means to investigate are very limited, so a good part of her investigation is based on reflexion, with scenes where we see her think about the case through and through, testing eventualities and work her way to the truth. I found these parts well done and enjoyable to read.

The end was also very good, and overall, it was a very pleasant read, though part of me also find it surprising that it won the Award (the book is good, but there is really nothing special in it either). Maybe I am expecting too much from the award winners and end up a bit disappointed as a result? Anyway, it is still a nice mystery that I recommend if you like the genre.

Book review: 『黒い白鳥』by Tetsuya Ayukawa

Cover of the book 黒い白鳥. The cover is red with the title and author in a white rectangle in the middle. Also in the rectangle, a drawing of a railway track with a tran in the distance and the figure of a man in the foreground.

Title: 『黒い白鳥』(くろいはくちょう)
Author: Tetsuya Ayukawa (鮎川哲也)
Published by Kobunsha.

『黒い白鳥』is the fourth book in the Chief Inspector Onitsura (鬼貫警部) series, a series of 17 novels and numerous short stories spanning more than 30 years.

Both this novel and another Onitsura book won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 1960.


The mystery/police investigation in this novel is very good, the solution is clever, with one trick in particular that I found excellent, and the reader is given all the elements they need to participate.

The mystery mostly resolves around train timetables, and unfortunately, I was too lazy to really try to work out a solution by myself. While this might be the main reason why I did not enjoy this novel as much as expected, there are also other elements that prevented me from feeling engrossed in the story.

First of all, I found that the novel throws several leads at us but does not really commit to any of them. The first one, which looks like it is going to play an important role in the story, is the trade union and negotiations between the company and the workers. Then we have religion playing a role with employees asking for freedom of religion (this took me a while to understand, because I was not aware that a company could impose a religion on its employees!). This makes for a complex and interesting setting for a murder story, but the story then moves on to other topics and we never really come back to this interesting setting.

Similar thing happens with the characters. The story opens with two women, one of which will clearly play a role in the story. We leave her in a difficult situation, but we won’t see her again until much later in the novel. Most of the novel is told from the point of view of the police detectives, but at some point, we follow other characters for a short sequence, and go back to following detectives. Even the detectives are split in two groups, and this did not really work for me (I prefer following the same duo of detectives from beginning to end, rather than follow one duo and then abruptly switch to another).

I also felt that the real purpose of a lot of scenes was the social aspect of what was described rather than the investigation itself, which sometimes felt a bit arduous. It often felt like the author just wanted to describe something, be it a place, a movement (like the labour movement), a professional area, etc. for the sake of the description rather than to advance the plot. The novel explores a lot of different social classes, and some passages felt like describing all of this was the real purpose of the book, and the investigation just a means to do it. So sometimes, we will have a long description of a certain place and little useful information relative to the case.

This makes for a good social novel, and it is great if you want to have a picture of the time, but it also felt frustrating to go through so many steps and descriptions just to confirm that what a certain character had said was true, or something of the sort.

I do think that this is a good detective novel overall, I just did not enjoy reading it that much. The end was good though, and I don’t regret reading it nor was I tempted to DNF it. However, I did not make me want to read the other prize winner of the same year (same author, same series), and I doubt that I will continue the Onitsura series.