When I said yes to taking part in Kate's Reprint of the Year award I chose a couple of books I'd bought and was still getting around to thinking I needed the push. I've happily collected all the Seishi Yokomizo reprints that Pushkin has released and before this had yet to read any of them. Work has been a challenge over the last few weeks (exhausting) and there have been some other distractions in the background so I was still late reading 'Death on Gokumon Island' (full disclosure I made a nest out of a duvet next to a heater and read most of it this afternoon.
Pushkin, Seishi Yokomizo, and my reckless choice of a book I hadn't previously read all came up trumps for me. There are a lot of reasons to explore this series - and this book also works really well as a stand-alone. Written in 1971, it's set on a small island in the Seto inland sea at the end of the war. Soldiers are trickling home, defeat is heavy in the air, and the full list of casualties is still unknown. Private Detective, Kosuke Kindaichi has come to Gokumon with the news that his beloved comrade and heir to the island's head fishing family, Chimata, died on the transport boat back.
Chimata's dying words were to beg Kosuke to go to the island - if he, Chimata, were to die his sisters would be murdered. It's a weirdly gothic setup, and as Chimata's prediction comes true the murders maintain a macabre and theatrical mood. The islanders are the descendants of pirates and prisoners, and a superstitious lot with a deep love of the dramatic. There's a streak of insanity running through the head family (this is not a politically correct book), and more ingenious twists and turns than I had ever dreamed of.
Why read it - partly it has to be for the atmosphere. The elements of a familiar anglophone golden age mystery are all here but in unfamiliar ways - in much the same way that a cup of tea might differ between the vicarage in St Mary Mead and the temple on Gokumon island.
The island setting is clever too - it's quite possible to believe that to the locals tied together by family connections and shared isolation would think and believe differently to the next island, never mind the mainland. These islanders have their own loyalties which seem both entirely crazy and make sense within their context.
The post war timing is a stroke of genius - it's a culture in the middle of significant change and trauma which all adds to the atmosphere of horror and despair and works to make the plot more feasible.
And finally, the plot is clever - the clues are there, but the solution is horrifying enough not to be easily guessed at. If you don't vote for this one, do at least consider reading it. It's a treat.