The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda Bitter Lemon Press
On a stormy summer day in the 1970s the Aosawas, owners of a prominent local hospital, host a large birthday party in their villa on the Sea of Japan. The occasion turns into tragedy when 17 people die from cyanide in their drinks. The only surviving links to what might have happened are a cryptic verse that could be the killer’s, and the physician’s bewitching blind daughter, Hisako, the only family member spared death. The youth who emerges as the prime suspect commits suicide that October, effectively sealing his guilt while consigning his motives to mystery. Inspector Teru is convinced that Hisako had a role in the crime, as are many in the town, including the author of a bestselling book about the murders written a decade after the incident. The truth is revealed through a skillful juggling of testimony by different voices: family members,
witnesses and neighbors, police investigators and of course the mesmerizing Hisako herself.
I read a lot of crime and am always on the look out for something a little different and The Aosawa Murders were definitely that.
It wasn’t your usual detective, police officer chasing criminals, blue lights flashing and all out action. No, it was more than that, it was slow, deep, intriguing, subtle, that required concentration from it’s reader.
It was a series of voices, all connected somehow to a mass family poisoning some twenty years ago, young blind Hisako the only survivor.
Each voice questioned her innocence, even if the supposed culprit had committed suicide. There was Makiko Saiga, a young girl at the time who wrote a book based on the murders, and the chain smoking detective who years later fought guilt at not finding the clues. The book editor who finally thought he’d solved it, the friends and Hisako herself all came at the affair with differing perspectives, small clues dotted amongst the narrative.
It was a narrative that was dense, full of hidden meaning, of the effects the crime had on them even years later. The beauty of Japan and it’s culture was wonderfully described, as the traditional and the modern clashed against each other.
I found myself swaying between potential suspects never quite convinced of their guilt, as another voice counteracted the others suspicions. It wasn’t until the latter parts of the novel that i began to have some clarity as the psychology behind the murders started to emerge.
I have to say that I still wasn’t convinced who the real culprit was, the ending ambiguous, not clear cut.
The Aosawa Murders was not a crime novel that will appeal to everyone, in fact I would say it was more in the contemporary genre. It was not what you would expect, but you had to admire Onda for her skill and ingenuity, for taking that risk to write a unique and mesmerising novel.
I would like to thank Bitter Lemon Press for a copy of The Aosawa Murders to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Riku Onda, born in 1964, is the professional name of Nanae Kumagai. She has been writing fiction since 1991 and has won the Yoshikawa Eiji Prize for New Writers, the Japan Booksellers’ Award, the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel for The Aosawa Murders, the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize, and the Naoki Prize. Her work has been adapted for film and television. This is her first crime novel and the first time she is translated into English.