Book Review: Death on Gokumon Island // Seishi Yokomizo

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Translator Louise Heal Kawai has introduced Seishi Yokomizo’s mystery books to an international audience, giving English readers the opportunity to experience the greatness of Japanese literature. Yokimozo’s classical works are now being explored by readers across the world who are now able to get a taste of what makes Japanese writing so special.

Death on Gokumon Island takes place at the end of World War Two, beginning with the return from military service of Detective Kosuke Kindaichi and his comrade Chimata Kito to their homeland via ship. On route, Chimata Kito – the heir of the chief family of Gokumon Island – dies, and warns the detective that his three sisters would be murdered, urging Kindaichi to return to the island in his place to prevent such a tragedy from happening.

Despite his best efforts the murders still occur, with their suspicious and dramatically staged nature initially baffling Kindaichi and his police colleagues. In desperation Kindaichi wanders Gokumon Island searching for the truth, seeking to reveal the secrets of the isolated community and the mysteries of the island. He begins to examine their way of thinking and their beliefs, to get inside the mind of the killer and determine what motive could have driven them to kill the Kito sisters. The evidence directs Kindaichi to the unique beliefs of the islanders and a mysterious prophecy, the solution to which answers many of the questions he has about this case.

In Death on Gokumon Island, Seishi Yokomizo narrates a twisted tale revolving around themes of inheritance, lines of succession, mystery, and culture to name but a few. Yokomizo constructs his story as a series of different but related parts, with each part creating and developing a deeper atmosphere within the plot.

The author conveys much of the book’s atmosphere through detailed depictions of nature by describing the island and its defining characteristics, like the fishing works, the huge mountains, the religious ceremonies, and its peoples’ way of life. Here, Yokomizo builds up a rich setting that complements an intriguing storyline and an impressive cast of characters.

Japanese mystery fiction has its own unique style of writing and method of crafting and conveying ideas to readers, which translator Louise Heal Kawai still manages to convey to English audiences. Thanks to her translation of Yokomizo’s Detective Kindaichi Mysteries series, readers have better access than ever before to a greater variety of Japanese fiction in translation, introducing them to cultures and ways of thinking and solving crimes that are different from what they are used to seeing in Kindaichi’s British and American counterparts. Death on Gokumon Island is the perfect place to start for those looking for an introduction to what the Land of the Rising Sun has to offer the crime fiction genre.

Words by Joyce Bou Charaa

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