The Tokyo Zodiac Murder

The Tokyo Zodiac Murder is written by Soji Shimada, its original title is Senseijutsu Satsujinjiken..

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders tells the story of 2 detectives Kiyoshi Mitarai and Kazumi Ishioka. Ishioka is the one who tells the story. This book reminds me of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, it can be said as The Japanese version of Sherlock Holmes. Mitarai has eccentric characters just like Holmes, however there’s a funny part in the book where Mitarai was mocking on Holmes. Ishioka loved mystery, he read all kind of mystery novels and his favorite was Sherlock Holmes, he was so angry at his best friend, Mitarai, when he started saying that  Holmes is full of sh*t. Mitarai had big ego and often made Ishioka felt so unlucky to have such best friend. Mitarai liked Ishioka a lot but he never admit it directly. This couple is very interesting to read, I like them a lot. They are really close because both of them are calling each other with their 1st name (or last name if it is written in Japanese characters).

Apart from these 2 detectives (actually, Mitarai is the detective and Ishioka is an illustrator who hangs out with Mitarai a lot), the case in this book is also interesting. The reason I picked this book out of so many books in the library is because of the case. It is about a serial murder based on astrology and zodiac. Here’s a excerpt from the book cover that made me choose to read this book:

The police find a bizarre testament describing his plan to create Azoth – the ideal woman – from various body parts of his young female relatives.

A serial murder with mutilated body parts, sounds good to me.

Reading the first pages of the book has already drawn me completely. I couldn’t put the book down. It was a testament and will written by Heikichi Umezawa, a famous artist who died in 1936. In his testament, we wrote that he was going to make the perfect woman named Azoth by using the body parts of his daughters and nieces. He was going to cut them up based on their zodiac and the metal elements that represent the zodiac. The unused body part will be left in the area that contains the same metal. For example, Yukiko is a cancer, and the metal that relates to cancer is silver, she will be killed using silver and put in silver mine. According to Umezawa, Cancer represent good breast and therefore Yukiko’s body part that will be used to make Azoth is her breast. His victims were his real daughters, Yukiko and Tokiko; his wife’s daughters, Tomoko and Akiko; his nieces, Reiko and Nobuyo.

If the note makes you think that it seems like an easy mystery and the perpetrator is already known from the beginning of the story … Then I should say that you are dead wrong!! At first, I was thinking like that, what good does it make to read a mystery book where the perpetrator has already admitted his crime, it won’t be fun at all. Thank God that Shimada-san doesn’t write his book like that.

The Umezawa murder happened in 1936, the case remained unsolved for 40 years and had become the greatest mystery in Japanese history. Many people tried to solve the mystery and many books had been published about the murder. In 1979, Ishioka was telling about the bizarreness of this murder to his best friend, private detective Mitarai. Ishioka remembered all the details in Umezawa murder by heart because he was so curious about it. The real mystery was Heikichi Umezawa was murdered before the serial killer happened. He was murdered not long after he wrote his testament. A month later, Kazue (his step daughter) was murdered and raped. After these 2 incidents, all 6 of the remaining girls were kidnapped and found mutilated just like the description in the testament. The question is, who killed them? Heikichi, the master mind of the zodiac murder, had already been murdered before the serial killing started.

Mitarai started taking interest of the case after a woman named Iida came and showed him a note from his father. The note was about her father’s involvement in the Umazawa murder. However, the incident that really intrigued Mitarai to start working on the case was when Iida’s brother came barging through his office. Mitarai and Ishioka came to Kyoto to investigate the crime that took place 40 years ago.

As I have said before, I like reading about the 2 detectives’ relationship and the case, but the book also has another interesting part. Shimada-san challenged us, the readers, to solve the case before the final curtain is lifted. He puts his note in page 183, he said that he has given all the clues and the details of the case, he hopes that we can solve it before Mitarai reveals the real murderer.

I could guess who the murderer is, but I couldn’t figure out how the murderer killed them, what kind of trick does he/she used. I can honestly say that, it was a great trick. I love reading how the murder had planned everything so perfect. However, all the murderer tricks can only be done in 1936, both Mitarai and the murderer admitted that the crime will not be a success if it was done in 1979.

Anyone who likes mystery should read this book. It was amazing. I want to read more books by Soji Shimada, especially books about Mitarai and Ishioka.


A brief introduction on the author (from the back cover)

Soji Shimada has worked as a designer, musician and an astrology writer for a major newspaper. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, nominated for Edogawa Rampo Award, was his first mystery novel and is still one of the best selling mystery novels in Japan. Other works include the Detective Mitarai and the Detective Yoshiki series, more than 100 other mystery novels, and several essays. A television drama has been based on his work. As well as being gifted writer, Shimada is also an active campaigner for removal of the death penalty in Japan.


The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is going to be my 3rd post for Hello Japan! Mini Challenge for October, Japanese Spooky; my 7th book for R.I.P. Challenge V; my 8th book for Support Your Library Reading Challenge 2010; my 4th book for Japanese Literature Challenge 4; my 13th book for New Author Challenge 2010 and my book based on Place Name for What’s In The Name Challenge 2010.


  1. This sounds really, really good. I will have to see if I can get. I have never read a Japanese crime writer before anyway but I read that some are very good.

    1. They are very good, I have read some good crime books by Japanese writers. Try Out by Natsuo Kirino, one of my favorites.

      This one is really interesting because it is different compare to other crime novels by Japanese writers I have ever read before

  2. I love mysteries and can’t believe I haven’t read this one! I will go and search for it. Have you read The Tattoo Murder Mystery by Akimitsu Takagi? It’s one of my favourites.

    1. I haven’t heard of that book yet, if a mystery lover thinks that the book is her favorite…it worths to be searched. I’ll look it up in the library when I return this book next week. Thank you for letting me know.

  3. so, a detective hates another famous detective intead of adores him? hmm..

    and the motive? why did the murderer kill based on other person testament..? maybe he wasnt dead yet..? 😉

    1. It’s a commonsense, people who think they are great sometime think that the other great people are nothing but phoney. Mitarai is the kind of person like that.

      The motive? Heikichi’s Motive is to make the perfect woman from body parts of women from different zodiacs. Why did the killer kill based on Heikichi’s note? hehehe I couldn’t tell you because that would be a MAJOR spoiler.
      Maybe Heikichi is still alive, or maybe there is a copy cat, or maybe it’s a spy thing…so many speculations are presented in this book.

  4. This sounds very good. I’m going to have to add it to my book wish list.
    And I second the recommendation of Out by Kirino. Rather disturbing at times but a great suspense novel!

    1. I’m glad that my review makes people want to read it 🙂 this is my second best J-literature (so far) in 2010.
      Talking about Kirino, I just saw her book, grosteque, being translated into Indonesian, will definitely buy it after my TBR had been reduced at least 50%

  5. I’ve just done reading it and it’s indeed a great book to recommend. The trick or ‘magic’ the murderer uses is so smart. ah too bad the murderer can’t even feel the happiness till the end.

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