The Inugami Curse is the sixth volume in Seishi Yokomizo’s Detective Kosuke Kindaichi series. First published in 19511, the 2020 translation is by Yumiko Yamazaki.
Lawyer Toyoichiro Wakabayashi summons detective Kosuke Kindaichi to the town of Nasu. The lawyer needs the detective’s help to prevent a wave of horrific murders. Alas for Wakabayashi, the detective is momentarily distracted while saving a beautiful woman from drowning in a nearby lake. When the detective returns to his client, the lawyer is dead. Someone poisoned one of the lawyer’s cigarettes.
Losing one’s client before the case has begun is embarrassing. Kindaichi decides stick around the town to wait for more murders and then solve them after the fact. He won’t have to wait long, thanks to some very bad choices by the late Sahei Inugami.
Sahei Inugami was a very successful businessman; his businesses were the foundation of Nasu’s current prosperity. His personal life was not at all exemplary: he had three acknowledged mistresses, none of whom he married, perhaps because he did not seem to have been over-fond of any of them. Each mistress had a daughter: the daughters are Matsuko, Takeko, and Umeko. Each half-sister in turn produced children: Matsuko had a son named Kiyo, Takeko had a son Také and a daughter named Sayoko, while Umeko had a son named Tomo.
While Sahei lived, he refused to share power in his company with his daughters, their husbands, or his grandchildren. Despite this, his grasping relatives were sure they would get their share of the family fortune once the old man finally died. Well …
The deceased Sahei was an orphan, a wanderer who was set on the path to fortune when a priest named Daini Nonomiya took pity on the starving young man and offered him shelter and later, a loan that started his successful career. Daini is long dead, as are his wife and daughter. Daini’s supernaturally beautiful grand-daughter Tamayo lives with the extended Inugami clan. Despite her beauty, none of the old man’s descendants pay much attention to someone who is, after all, dependent on charity.
To their outrage, Tamayo is the focus of Sahei’s will. Whichever of the three grandsons she marries will share vast wealth with her. Suddenly the despised charity case matters! How annoying! And to make matters worse, a considerable share of the old man’s wealth goes to someone named Shizuma Aonuma, a name unfamiliar to the would-be heirs.
Of course, there are worse burdens than earning a fortune by marrying a woman who is so beautiful that to see her is to be struck speechless. The situation is less than wonderful from Tamayo’s perspective: she is supposed to choose between three men, two of whom are unpleasant and one of whom was maimed in the recent war. Also, someone is trying to kill her.
Someone has been trying to kill Tamayo for some time. Her narrow escapes began before the reading of the will. She is, in fact, the beautiful woman whose near-drowning distracted the detective while Wakabayashi smoked his final cigarette. Tamayo’s stalker was aware of the contents of the will even before the public reading. No doubt Wakabayashi is to blame for the leak, but he is too dead to reveal the leakee.
All the detective needs to do is wait for the greedy murderer to start knocking off the would-be heirs one by one. No doubt the killer will betray themself in the process! This is a straightforward method that is, alas, very hard on the Inugami clan, whose numbers rapidly dwindle.
This novel is set immediately after World War Two. While the war is discussed in rather oblique terms, the minutiae of who did what to whom being too distasteful for polite conversation, the war shapes the plot. For example, the public reading of the will has to be delayed until Kiyo can return from overseas, which gives someone time to discover the terms of the will and motive to try to murder Tamayo. When Kiyo does appear, he wears a mask — two masks, in fact — to conceal a horrific facial disfigurement2.
Detective Kindaichi abhors violence and he would no doubt have preferred to solve the murders sooner than he actually does. Waiting for the killer to eliminate the other suspects is effective but also unpleasant. Fortunately the carnage-enabling method that circumstance forces on Kindaichi is mitigated by the fact most of the victims will not be missed. By anyone. Sahei may have been a remarkable man, but his descendants seem to remarkable only for loathsomeness.
The situation in Nasu is rather convoluted, far more-so than the synopsis can begin to suggest. (I don’t think you would keep reading if I maundered on for a few more screens.) No, really: the dead oligarch had a rather involved personal life and his descendants are all fond of needlessly complicated scheming. Consequently, the denouement of the novel is rather extended. Kindaichi has rather a lot to explain. In fact, it’s all a bit more convoluted than I cared to deal with this week. Readers who like their mysteries homicidal, their families cutthroat, and their victims assholes might enjoy it more than I did.
1: Pushkin Press cites a much later copyright date, but this seems to be wrong.
2: While Matsuko is convinced that the man in the mask is her beloved son, her relatives express impolite skepticism. As it happens, his fingerprints are on record.