The Tattoo Murder Case Review

The Tattoo Murder Case
by Akimitsu Takagi
translated by Deborah Boehm
SoHo Press, Dec., 1997.
Hardcover, 316 pages.
ISBN: 1569471088.
Ordering information:

The Tattoo Murder Case
by Akimitsu Takagi In the summer of 1947, the inhabitants of Tokyo are still reeling over the loss of the war and the devastation of their city, their country and their families. Kenzo Matsushita, back to civilian life after being pressed into service as a military medic during the war, is continuing his studies at the Tokyo Medical School while waiting for an opening on the police medical staff where his older brother holds the title of Detective Chief Inspector. One evening, while looking for some entertainment, Kenzo stumbles across a bizarre gathering -- the annual meeting of the tattoo society which gives a prize for the best tattoo. Tattooing is illegal in Japan and is ostensibly frowned upon, although in actuality the society has a secret love and fascination for the ancient art. At the contest, Kenzo meets the winner of the contest -- a beautiful woman with a full body tattoo by her father, one of Japan's most skilled and famous tattoo artists. Their torrid affair barely starts when the beautiful Kinue Nomura is found brutally murdered in her home in a room locked on the inside with the skin of her torso containing the exquisite tattoo missing. Kenzo is first on the scene and is forced to call in his brother to solve the case, while trying to hide his own affair with Kinue. Terrified of becoming a suspect, torn with grief at the loss of his lover, Kinue calls in his brilliant friend Kyosuke to assist in solving the crime. As the pair dig deeper into the history of Kinue they find out that her father the famous tattoo artist had tattooed his three children with the images of three of the most famous images from Japanese mythology -- three images which legend says will destroy each other if they are juxtaposed. When the owner of the second tattoo is also found dead, Kenzo and Kyosuke must race against time to discover the secret of the legendary curse, determine the involvement of the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) and locate the whereabouts of the person with the missing third tattoo, before the murderer strikes again and before Kenzo's brother must face the shame of being unable to solve the case.

Originally published in 1948 as Shisei Satsujin Jiken, The Tattoo Murder Case is the first work of legendary mystery novelist Akimitusu Takagi, one of Japan's bestselling and most acclaimed mystery novelists. Published by Soho, the work appears for the first time in English in this translation by Deborah Boehm. Boehm had a monstrous task ahead of her in the translation; not only the language barriers but the difficult task of describing another culture in a different time period in which customs and attitudes differed greatly from those of modern day Japan and America. Boehm does a masterful job in the translation. The prose is clear and clean and the characters voices speak to us. The descriptions of the fables and myths of ancient Japan and of the cult of the full-body tattoo are fascinating and are deftly interwoven into the murder mystery. The mystery is an intriguing puzzle which combined with the story of the difficulties Kenzo has in adapting to life as a civilian in a post-war society in which everything has changed make for an engrossing read. A gift from the past for non-Japanese speaking readers, this jewel of a story must not be missed.

--Claire E. White

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