This might be the best mystery I’ve ever read. I immediately reread it and liked it even better second time around.
A prominent local family host a party at their smart villa in a seaside town in 1970s Japan. Seventeen people are poisoned and only one member of the family survives: teenage Hisako, a blind girl. Hisako claims that all she can remember is a blue room, and a flower.
Convinced that she is guilty of murder, a local police inspector tries for years to prove it. But an easier suspect takes his own life, and people start to move on. A gathering together of multiple forms of testimony helps to find an answer at last.
The Aosawa Murders is made up of witness accounts, stories and other ‘found’ testimony. You read along, almost as an investigator yourself, and the process is extraordinarily engrossing. It reminded me of the things I liked best about Graham Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, but ultimately it’s not really like anything else (https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2016/09/07/his-bloody-project-by-graeme-macrae-burnet/).
Riku Onda’s writing is beautiful and the translation seamless. The setting is so vivid it becomes a character in itself: “But the ocean here isn’t refreshing at all. Gazing at it doesn’t give you any sense of freedom or relief. And the horizon is always close, as if waiting for an opportunity to force its way onto land. It feels like you’re being watched, and if you dare look away for just a moment the sea might descend upon you.” (p. 14)
The need to reread immediately is a reflection of the intricate and satisfying plot. I suspected I could make more connections by having a second pass of the evidence, and I did.
The book literally gave me chills. There were a couple of moments where I gasped aloud. It’s both understated and electrifying and I’m still not sure how the author achieves this. The Aosawa Murders has opened up a whole world of Japanese crime writing for me. I went straight on to read The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada. I will never forget The Aosawa Murders.